Signs of a Failed Legal System

The World Justice Project Rule of Law Index offers a detailed, multidimensional view of the extent to which countries adhere to the rule of law in practice. In arriving at its conclusions, it covers factors such as constraints on government powers, absence of corruption, fundamental rights, regulatory enforcement, civil and criminal justice and accountability.

According to this Index published in 2014, Pakistan ranks at no. 96 out of 99 countries surveyed for the Index. This should neither come as a shock nor a surprise for anyone having the remotest interaction with the Pakistani Legal System.

Furthermore, in the South Asian region out of the 6 countries surveyed for this Index, we rank at no. 5 just above Afghanistan, which ranks at no. 98 in the world index. This is an eye opener for our lordships and the successive governments who have done nothing to reform the legal system. Even Kenya and Nigeria are ranked above us at no. 86 and 93 respectively. The report most aptly summaries the Pakistani Legal System and states that “despite the relative independence of the courts, the judicial system is slow and ineffective, and it is affected by corruption, due process of law violations, and the poor condition of correctional facilities.”

One ray of hope for our legal system came in the shape of the National Judicial Policy introduced in 2009, which specifically directed all the judges to decide all cases expeditiously. For instance, on the criminal law side, the policy directed the judges to decide bail applications in 3 days and all cases punishable with imprisonment of 7 years and above including death should be decided within 6 months. On the civil side, the policy inter alia stated that banking and tax cases should be decided within 6 months. However, the said policy, which looked excellent on paper and provided much hope, was never properly implemented.

It is astonishing to note that according to a report titled ‘Implementation of National Judicial Policy’, available on the Lahore High Court website (, the figures are alarming to say the least and depict a sorry state of affairs of our legal system. For instance, for appeals of imprisonment of 7 years or more including death sentence pending from 1.1.2014 till 30.4.2014, only 11 were decided and 871 are still pending. On the other hand, the banking cases which were supposed to be decided within 6 months, only 156 were decided in the same period from 1.1.2014 to 30.4.2014 and 4530 are still pending.

It is an age old maxim that justice delayed is justice denied. In the Pakistani Legal System we need to declare a legal emergency. We have to introduce drastic judicial reforms if we have any chance of surviving as a civilized nation. It is disturbing to say the least that our civil procedure code is dated 1908 and our criminal procedure code is dated 1898. Successive governments have come and gone and no one has bothered to reform the legal system to provide inexpensive and expeditious justice. Many politicians have made tall claims but none have actually taken any concrete steps to reform the system.

It is important to note that one of the reasons for a massive increase in crime rate is that the litigants know that the legal system will not be able to provide them any justice and the only recourse is to take the law in your own hands. Furthermore, our extremely slow and lethargic legal system acts as no deterrent for criminals who know that they can even get away with murder and other heinous crimes. This lack of trust in the institutions and its practitioners is one of the biggest factors undermining Pakistani civic society and democracy.

This lack of trust mainly stems from operational inefficiencies, administrative failure and the slow and agonizing procedures. It needs no further emphasis that a thriving legal system also has a positive impact on the economy as many investors are encouraged to invest in a jurisdiction where they know that the legal system can protect their investments. At present, our laws are not drafted and implemented in a manner which promotes economic growth when compared with other jurisdictions. I hope one day in Pakistan, justice will prevail and that it shall not only be done but shall also be seen to be done. As Martin Luther King Jr. mostly aptly stated, “The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges”.


The writer is a Barrister and partner at Kilam Law. He can be reached at [email protected].

Haris Azmat

Author: Haris Azmat

The write is an Advocate of the Supreme Court of Pakistan and Partner at Kilam Law. He tweets @harisazmat1 and can be reached at [email protected]