Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PMLN), on page 73 of its election manifesto in 2013, promised to reduce the pending backlog of court cases at every level, and provide justice at the immediate local level.
“To accelerate disposal of cases, procedures will be greatly simplified. In particular, legislation will be enacted to provide that:
(a) In civil cases, initial trial to be completed within one year, and appellate proceedings within the following year; and
(b) In criminal cases, trial to be completed within six months and appeal be decided within one year.”
When PML-N started its election campaign, judicial reform was one of the major components of its election promises. Litigants were suffering, both physically and mentally, as their cases lingered over generations without getting the final decision from the court. PML-N said that they believe ‘Justice Delayed is Justice Denied’ so after coming to power the party would address this concern immediately.
To track the promise Truth Tracker contacted senior parliamentarian, PML-N leader and a lawyer Syed Zafar Ali Shah.
Shah initially told Truth Tracker that to find out why this promise was not fulfilled, one would have to ask the people who made these promises in the manifesto on PML-N’s behalf.
“But we are making an effort to mitigate the pending cases backlog,” said Shah. These promises were for a five-year tenure and “we are making an effort to fulfill this promise before next elections.”
However, when asked why no legislation has been made in this regard, Shah, once the close aide of PM Sharif and a former Senator said he is not in a position to answer the question.
He said the PML-N will announce judicial reforms very soon.
Truth Tracker attempted to contact Maryum Aurangzeb, Federal Minister for Information, and her counterpart former Minister for Information Pervaiz Rasheed, but neither of them answered phone calls.
Truth Tracker also contacted PTI spokesperson and leading Lawyer Chaudhry Fawad Hussain, who said that no effort has been made by PML-N on fulfilling this promise that was central in their campaign. “Despite the fact that they are in power for more than three years, no effort has been made to solve this issue,” said Hussain.
A leading lawyer and political analyst Ali Ibrahim told Truth Tracker that, like most political promises in Pakistan, the PML-N’s promise to provide expeditious justice at immediate local level was merely rhetoric.
“This is not the first time that law, as an institution, has been sought to be reformed by making cosmetic changes in the body of various laws,” said Ibrahim.
A primary example of this appears in the various banking recovery laws promulgated till date, he said. Almost all these laws contain provisions which seek to reduce the time for disposal of a case to six months.
“However, any lawyer practicing in the Banking Courts will tell you that in most cases it takes about that much time just to get the other side before a judge,” he added.
Ibrahim cited statistics issued by the Supreme Court (SC) to provide an objective, manner of assessment of the promises of the ruling government to reduce backlog and expedite cases. Judicial Statistics of Pakistan (JSP), 2013 issued by the National Judicial Committee for policy making, showed that the backlog didn’t improve that year: The total number of cases pending before the Supreme Court on January 1, 2013 were 20,314. The balance as of Dec. 31, 2013 was 20,480.
The number of cases pending before the Lahore High Court were 155,827 at the begining of 2013. At the end of the year 2013, they had snowballed to 173,037.
Similarly, in the District Courts in Punjab, the number of cases pending at the start of the year 2013 were 1,024,517. At the end of 2013, they had risen to 1,107,634.
As per the report issued in 2014, the number of cases pending before the Supreme Court at the end of the year had risen to 22,764 in 2014. For the District Court in Punjab, the number rose from 1,107,634 to 1,161,524 in 2014. Lahore High Court was the only court with noticeable improvement. There, the number of cases was reduced from 173,037 to 164,683 in 2014.
Ibrahim stated that this data refutes any claim that the promises pertaining to judicial reform have been kept. In addition, any reduction in the number of cases is no measure of the state of justice in the country, he said.
Judges must not be taxed further by making it part of their job to pass judgments in haste, he said.
The first step in effective legal reform at the institutional level is to identify the various players involved, Ibrahim said. The judges, their numbers and effectiveness are just as important as the litigants, the lawyers and the lower staff involved in the process of dispensation of judges, he said.
“In order to bring real reform, the government must do more than make cosmetic changes in the law. A comprehensive policy has to be devised based on a socio-legal perspective. More data needs to be added to the statistics. Reform will have to be directed at all players involved in the judicial processes individually as well as on an institutional level,” said Ibrahim.
Prominent lawyer and columnist Yasser Latif Hamdani agreed that no legislative effort has been expended to accelerate disposal of cases or to simplify procedures.
Hamdani said that the civil trials cannot be completed in one year because of one reason alone – the power under Order XVII Rule 1 to grant adjournments for sufficient cause, a prerogative often misused by lawyers with impunity.
The issue of disposal of cases cannot be put at the doorstep of government because this is what the superior judiciary is there for, Hamdani said. It is the judiciary that must set rules of conduct and work out ways of implementing an effective and speedy form of justice, he said.
Based on the statistics provided by the courts, and analysis of legal experts, Truth Tracker team rules that no material effort has been made by the PML-N government, but we are giving a neutral rating that is compromised as they have another 18 months to fulfill this promise.