Editorial: Justice delayed is justice denied

Justice is only possible if the case is heard and decided. This is the minimum requirement of justice. But that is not happening in today’s Pakistan. By the end of 2016, some three million cases were pending in various courts and given the avalanche of new cases, there is every possibility that this number would register a dramatic increase with the passage of time unless there is a very serious effort on the part of the government to reverse the trend.

Prima facie, what the government should do is to increase the number of judges; update the criminal and civil justice delivery mechanism; and simplify the case procedure especially by amending the law of evidence and the appeal process. Likewise, the timelines for cases to be heard and decided should be fixed according to the nature of offences committed and jurisdiction of courts trying those cases. The growing pendency is a lingering issue, and regularly comes under discussion at all relevant forums.

But is there a tangible, even if not dramatic, movement towards a solution to overcome this problem? There is, however, not much is in evidence except for a mini step the government mulls taking by introducing evening courts in Islamabad. The National Assembly has been informed that the law ministry has drafted a bill to set up evening courts, initially in the capital and later on in provinces. In a written reply, Law Minister Zahid Hamid said a draft bill entitled “Evening Courts Bill 2017” was being considered to reduce the pendency of cases in courts, adding given the paucity of judges the backlog is increasing.

That such a massive challenge as many as 3 million cases waiting to be decided by the courts, should receive so low priority treatment in the National Assembly is indeed very disconcerting.

To receive expeditious justice is a fundamental right of every citizen of Pakistan under Articles 9 and 37. Article 9 mandates that “No person shall be deprived of life or liberty save in accordance of law.” Haven’t we heard of incidents that the accused died in imprisonment long before the court declared them innocent? And under Article 37 (d) the State shall “ensure inexpensive and expeditious justice.”

Clearly, then the successive governments have failed and thus run afoul of the constitutional dictates by sleeping over the ever-increasing backlog of pending cases. So distressing is the scenario of increasing pendency of cases in courts that quite a few people would look for closure of their cases even if outcomes are against them. The pendency is an enormous challenge and needs to be tackled by a suitable action on many fronts. Not only is there a perennial shortages of judges, the conditions in courts are quite depressing. For example, consider the case of district courts in Islamabad.

For nearly half a century, they are working from the forbidding warren of overcrowded rented buildings as thousands of clients run into each other in its narrow passages. Not that these courts should get their own premises, they should get these without any further loss of time. Then there should be more judges, not only by filling up vacancies but also by additional recruitment.

At the same time, suitable measures should be taken to ensure prompt prosecution. And this should happen not only in the capital, but all over the country. – Business Recorder