Pakistan People’s Party had promised in its 2013 manifesto that it would bring about constructive court reforms especially by introducing the Alternative Dispute Resolution mechanism and mobile courts, once it came to power.
The judicial system in Pakistan has been unpopular because of its tendency to dispense delayed justice. The same is true with the justice system in Sindh.
According to the statistics available at the web site of Sindh High Court (SHC), the number of pending cases at the SHC stands at 51,120 on March 2016. At the district judiciary level the number of unresolved cases are 111196, as of March 2017. A steep rise of 15 percent in the institution of new constitution petitions has been witnessed at the SHC by December 2015.
However for the first time in recent year the SHC managed to decrease the backlog of cases in 2015 because of the induction of 10 extra additional judges that took the strength from 23 to 33. The total sanctioned strength is 40 therefore there was still a shortfall of seven judges.
Expeditious justice is the fundamental right of every citizen under Article 9 of the constitution of Pakistan. The state is also obligated to provide speedy justice under Article 37(d). In case of failure to provide justice in time to its citizen, the state would be said to have failed in fulfilling its obligation. A few years ago, the Chief Justice of India broke down in tears because of the pendency of cases in Indian courts that had exceeded the figure of 20 million. Judges in Pakistan have a similar reason to break down in tears, however we have yet to see any form of remorse.
In January 2015, Justice Asif Saeed Khosa of the Supreme Court of Pakistan had deplored that 2,400 judges had the daunting task of clearing a backlog of 1.7 million cases in different courts.
The downside of not having a expeditious justice system is that it does not only keep the litigators in constant agony, since a case that is heard and closed, whether in favour or against, is far better than the one that goes on for years undecided. Similarly, when the accused is not punished, or punished in time, it makes the offenders of law more emboldened and takes away the fear of the law.
The criminal justice system in Pakistan is known to be faulty, exploitative and inequitable. These problems, according to legal experts, have accelerated the rate of crime in the country.
The criminal justice system in Pakistan comprises of five components: Police, Judiciary, Prison, Prosecution, Probation or Parole. The legal basis of the criminal system of Pakistan includes the Criminal Procedure Act of 1898 and the Pakistan Penal Code 1860. In spite of the fact that many amendments had been introduced in both the legal systems, the basic structure and nature of dispensation of justice of both the legal systems has failed to keep pace with the changing legal needs of society. It was probably in view of this situation that the Supreme Court of Pakistan once painted the picture of Pakistan legal system in these words “…people are losing faith in the dispensation of criminal justice by ordinary criminal courts for the reason that they either acquit the accused persons on technical grounds or take a lenient view in awarding sentences.” As justice is either delayed or distorted, people have been taking law into their hands with the result that the cases of lynching of an accused by public through street justice has become a norm.
The Alternative Dispute Resolution system has been introduced in Sindh.
Section 89A of the Civil Procedure Code, 2001, stipulates that an on going case may be referred to the National Centre for Dispute Resolution (previously called Karachi Centre for Dispute Resolution) if both parties agree to resolve their dispute through the alternative dispute resolution method.
The National Centre for Dispute Resolution, approved by the SHC is headed by former Chief Justice of Pakistan.
Senator Farhatullah Babar from PPP told Truth Tracker in a telephone conversation that the Sindh government has been trying to bring about a comprehensive programme to not only reform the judicial system in Sindh but to make the alternative dispute resolution method effective. When asked as to when this deliberation would take a legal form, Babar said that such initiation and policy making takes time. He gave the example of the federal government where it took parliament seven years to finally get over with the Alternative Dispute Resolution Act. Talking about the seriousness of the Sindh government in reform courts, Babar said, that the PPP has always been in the forefront to make such reforms. However he agreed that there were innumerable loopholes in the judicial system of the country because of which the working of the courts were affected.
Khawaja Izharul Haq, the leader of opposition in the Sindh Assembly blamed the judiciary of Pakistan, including the one dispensing justice in Sindh to be one of the main reasons of rising corruption in the country. While talking to Truth Tracker, he said, “The lack of an independent judiciary has resulted in the politicization of every institution. Cases are settled on the whims of the mightier.” He added: “Look at the number of commission reports and suo mottos taken. Not a single decision of any commission report has been implemented.” About courts in Sindh he said that because the culture of accountability was almost absent in the country, the same applies to Sindh. “This is a country where a commoner is punished for stealing Rs 4,000 while a robber of the highest order is graced with a gold crown,” he lamented. When asked about the performance of the alternative dispute resolution system in Sindh, Izharul Haq said that in the presence of an underperforming criminal system should one expect the alternative dispute system to be working any better.
Former Vice-Chairman Sindh Bar Council, Barrister Salahuddin Ahmed told Truth Tracker that unless the government and the courts, armed with proper data, brought meaningful reforms in the criminal justice system of the country, the alternative dispute resolution or the mobile courts, for that matter, would make no difference. He said that the NCDR has been working in Karachi for the past 10 years but they have failed to resolve more than seventy to eighty cases.
Ahmed said that he could not recall if the Sindh government had brought any reforms in courts, neither has he heard anything pertaining to mobile courts. “Sindh High Court is still faced with a very high number of pending cases,” he said.
One Investigation Officer (IO), said that Ahmed handled 400 cases, and because he is not properly equipped, it is not humanly possible to investigate such a large number of cases. Hence, the IO ends up resurrecting false evidences and witnesses, which causes the accused to be free, or they languish in jails without conviction.
When asked about the quality of judges and lawyers in Pakistan, Ahmed said, “They were as good as the quality of education system in Pakistan.”
From the discussion above, it can be deduced that the Sindh government has been unable to bring any change in the working of the courts, and as far as mobile courts are concerned there has been no initiative to that effect. The alternative dispute mechanism has been in place in Sindh since 2007, the PPP government in Sindh however has failed to even make the existing system effective.