Editorial: Where justice has the back seat


-File Photo

Some 200,000 cases are pending with the district courts across Punjab, with the number of cases pending in the Lahore High Court alone being a staggering 130,000.

That cases should be heard in time and decided expeditiously, there is no second opinion on that.

But that is very unlikely to happen in the foreseeable future because successive governments gave low priority to must-do reforms for delivery of speedy justice. Invariably, the governments adopted self-preserving and self-promoting policies and programmes, asking the judiciary to wait. That wait doesn’t seem to be ending anytime soon. Judiciary is the third branch of State, the other two being Executive and Legislature. But given the complexity of the power games in our country it is either the executive or the legislature which is in the driving seat; the judiciary takes the back seat and waits for its turn, which has not come so far.

And the prime victim of that monopolistic mindset is the common man. Right on spot is the comment by the Chief Justice of the Lahore High Court, Justice Mansoor Ali Shah, that while “the importance of Metrobus, roads and other developments cannot be under-estimated, the common man wants quick dispensation of justice.” There is not much elaboration in the media’s version of his speech at a function of the Punjab Judicial Academy, but his message carries a strong appeal for those objecting to the other branches of government, which are keeping the judiciary waiting at the door.

It is quite interesting that much before the parliament moved from Karachi to Islamabad, residential facility for its members was already there, at the specially-built MNA Hostel. And then as the parliament moved to the capital, the demand for more comfortable living led to the building of a special residential complex for the elected members close to Parliament House. But the Supreme Court was consigned to a building on Rawalpindi’s Peshawar Road, and a rented house was the first district court of Islamabad started operating from.

More than half-a-century on, almost all government buildings are housed in their own built-to-specification structures. Not Islamabad district courts, which even today are housed in rented buildings in F-8 Markaz. There is no acute shortage of courtrooms. The lawyers perforce have raised a kind of shantytown around the complex, with some of them having occupied the pavements (footpaths).

With one-tenth of government spending on the Rawalpindi-Islamabad Metrobus system, these courts could have had their own premises. As things stand today, in most cases the courtrooms still operate from colonial-era structures.

And it is not only that there should be purpose-built district-level judicial complexes, there should also be many more judges, perhaps five to six times more, in order to ensure not only reduction in pendency but also for them to be in a position to deliver prompt justice – and justice delayed is justice denied, as they say. In Pakistan, there is one judge to about a quarter of a million people; in advanced countries there is one judge for every 10,000. The idea that there should be “evening courts” is fine, but that it would be hardly a pie in the sky, given the enormousness of pendency.

Our constitution says that to receive justice is a fundamental right of every citizen of Pakistan, whereas the road he uses on way to work, what transport he takes and how soon he arrives to the workplace is not. What an irony that the one who wants an all-weather road and quick transport is the focus of all the attention, but the one hurt and wronged and in need of timely justice is asked to wait in long, unending queues. How Kafkaesque! -Business Recorder