By: Ali Azami
It is associated with Winston Churchill that during World War II he asked if the courts were functioning and when he was told that they were, he thanked God and said if courts were functioning, nothing could go wrong. These historical remarks of Churchill are enough to highlight the significance of a judicial system for the existence of a state and a society. An efficient and effective judicial system is very crucial to the socio-economic development of a country and the protection of fundamental rights of its citizens.
Though it has been more than seventy years since Pakistan saw the day of light as a sovereign and independent state, its justice system is still grappling with multiple challenges and issues. Successive governments in the past had made lofty claims to overhaul the ailing justice system but no serious efforts were made. Every political party ascending to the power promised to bring fundamental structural changes in the prevailing judicial system but no concrete measures have been taken until recently and judicial reforms still remain a distant dream. The present condition of the justice system is so abysmal and grave that there are a lot of examples showing blatant violation of principle of rule of law. The World Justice Project’s Rule of Law Index 2021 report shows that Pakistan is among the lowest-ranked countries in its adherence to rule of law, ranking 130th out of 139 nations. This indicates very dismal situation of regarding rule of law in the country. As rule of law is the edifice on which an egalitarian society is built on, therefore, for rule of law to prevail in the society it has become indispensable to bring about major reforms in judicial system of the country so that citizens may get access to timely justice.
The first step towards the improvement of a system must be an accurate identification of the problems that plague the system. Therefore, before moving towards what reforms should be incorporated into judicial system, it is essential to have knowledge about the issues infecting the system of justice because it is impossible to treat a disease without a prior diagnosis.
To begin with, the methods and working procedures adopted and applied in the courts are outdated and conventional . The working method of courts is inherited from colonial era of British government, and is not in synchronization with the changing dynamics in the judicial realm. Modern methods have not been incorporated into overall justice system so for, leading to incompatibility of judiciary with changing nature of different dimensions of judicial system.
A famous maxim is frequently quoted: ‘justice delayed is justice denied. Pakistan’s judicial system depicts a practical example of this adage as inordinate delays in the disposal of cases have become a fashion in the existing system of justice. There are more cases filed than disposed resulting in chocking of justice delivery system, lengthy hearings are no more unusual phenomenon in the country. Adding insult to injury, there is insufficient number of judges to hear the cases. A natural corollary of this is obviously is a huge backlog of cases awaiting to be settled. But it seems to be very difficult to clear up this backlog of cases given the scarcity of judges and continuously increasing cases.
The pendency of cases is severely haunting the judicial system. According to data issued by national judicial policy making committee, there are more than 2millian cases pending in higher and lower courts, while the number judges is approximately 3 thousands, which is definitely not enough to make such a huge number of cases reach a logical conclusion.
Moreover, the process of recruitment of judges and subsequent training are also not as per the standards being adopted and practised by most of robust and effective judicial systems of developed countries in the world. There is a lack of comprehensive, modernized and specialized training programme for newly recruited judges.
Another issue confronting the judicial system is the complexity of procedures inherent in existing system, which makes it difficult for the laymen to comprehered judicial process, thereby compounding the woes of poor people in search of cheap and speedy justice.
In addition, the prevalent judicial system has not been able to get rigid of excessive and unnecessary litigation, which further increases the burden on the judiciary. Hundreds of frivolous petitions are filed and no check is placed in this regard. These frivolous petitions waste precious time of courts already grappling with the issue of delays in disposal of cases.
Lastly, the flawed investigation system in the police ,which is the first step in the criminal justice system, is in the due need of transformation. There are various problems in the evidence collection, and presentation of witness. The absence of efficient and flawless investigation process hampers the logical conclusion of a legal matter.
Considering the deterioration of justice system, multifaceted reforms are required at multiple levels to make the judicial system effective and accessible to the masses.
Firstly, the number of judges should be enhanced specially in lower courts so that ratio of pending of cases may be reduced. Moreover, traditional methods of training of judges should be replaced with latest ones . The recruitment should be based on professional standards making no compromise over the integrity and expertise required for the office of as an important person as a judge of a court of law. Newly appointed judges should be trained at centre of excellence of reputed universities. More focus is need at specialization during initial phase of training at judicial academies.
In order to prevent unfair delays in judgements , time limitation should be introduced for timely dispensation of justice both in civil and criminal cases but it must be ensured that all legal requirements are fulfilled in regard to the right to fair trial. The haste in trial should not be done at the cost of a person’s right of being heard completely because justice hurried is justice buried.
Furthermore, an advanced investigation department should b established in the police, whose take should be only to make investigation processes efficient and fruitful. Protection of witnesses also needs attention specifically in criminal cases.
Model courts can serve as an effective means for speedy disposed of cases. Though ,several model courts, were established by former chief justice ,Asif Saeed Khoha ,this programme needs to be expanded all over the country. The concept of alternative dispute resolutions should be enforced to reduce the burden of lower judiciary.
To sum up, it is high time that legislative ,executive and judiciary jointly took substantive measures towards reforming the ailing judicial system making it more efficient and effective in order to ensure affordable and equal dispensation of justice so that the dream of rule of law may be materialised, which is indeed essential to a society and a state.
The writer is a Pharmacist, Freelance writer and Blogger having interest in socio-political issues and current affairs. He can be reached at [email protected]