Justice Delayed Is Justice Denied
Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere and this piece of writing aims to act as an eye opener for those seeking reform in the Lahore High Court.
I was very pleased when I heard that the honourable Chief Justice of the Lahore High Court after taking oath said that he would not tolerate any irresponsible behavior from any public functionary. I always admire his courageous demeanour and intellect, and his understanding of judicial review powers exercised under Article 199 of the Constitution. To be honest Chief Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah is considered amongst the lawyers’ fraternity as a person who is passionate and driven about taking initiative on giving judgments that have been leading to the development of jurisprudence. His Lordship is a judge who always shows spirit in reforming things, which leaves the impression on the bar that no one is above the law irrespective of his or her class, creed or position in society. The question arises as to why he is among the very few who take up challenges and dispense justice. Does it require the willpower of a superhero to dispense justice? Why don’t all judges delve deeper into the issues for the development of law?
These may come off as punitive questions but Chief Justice may be surprised to know that other judges nowadays are reluctant in deciding cases of public importance. Let me give an example of the outgoing honourable Chief Justice. A larger bench had been constituted to decide whether an inquiry tribunal report of Justice Ali Baqar Najfi, regarding the incident at Model Town Minhajul Quran in which fourteen innocent people lost their lives, should be made public or not. More than two years have lapsed but the issue remains undecided. Even appearing on behalf of the petitioner as counsel, I myself gave an application of early hearing and was shocked that the former Chief Justice had dismissed it and had also refused to fix the date. My question is, was it not a matter of public importance? I shall not comment on the court proceedings because the larger bench constituted was always hesitant in deciding the issue. The writ petition number is 22334-14.
In another case number 4311-16, regarding the sales tax levy on petroleum products, I was deeply disappointed that when I gave an application of early hearing, the honourable judge refused to fix the date by giving an observation that the issue was not of public importance. In rebuttal I enquired as to what else could have been an issue of public importance if the levy of sales tax on petroleum products without the approval of Parliament had not attained significance as being a matter of public interest. Every practising lawyer would be aware that applications for early hearing are normally allowed instantly without any objection.
Decision by the same honourable judge is also being delayed in case number 35720-15 regarding the issue of Public Accounts Committee (PAC) where the government of Punjab is unwilling to present district government audit accounts before the House (Punjab Assembly) and PAC. Even the parawise comments (comments and replies in paragraph format) filed by the Auditor General of Pakistan and Governor of Punjab support the assertion of the petitioner. Yet on every date of hearing, instead of an order being passed or effective directions being given to the Government of Punjab, the issue is still lingering as if PAC has little or no relevance. At present there are irregularities worth Rs.200 billion and if PAC becomes effective, the taxpayers’ money may be recovered. But since there seems to be a disinterest in deciding the issue, the day is not far when the writ petition would become totally infructuous, as the next elections are also nearing and due in 2018.
Chief Justice Shah has always supported the principles of democracy, egalitarianism and good governance in his observations and his reported judgments are worth reading, but what if the dilatory tactics by others become an impediment in the dispensation of justice and the implementation of democratic principles and good governance? It would be highly unsatisfying.
Two months ago the federal government imposed a ban on the film ‘Maalik’ and I on behalf of a petitioner filed writ number 14322-16 to set aside that ban, as the censorship issue does not fall within the ambit of the federal government – its jurisdiction is vested with the provinces after the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution of Pakistan. Even otherwise there was no justification for imposing a ban as it negated freedom of expression and I also provided before the honourable judge, numerous references of Indian judgments, especially of the famous Andhra Pradesh High Court’s judgment in which the ban on the film ‘Da Vinci Code’ was set aside. The principle of locus poententiae was also relevant according to which, once legal rights have been created and the film has been allowed to be screened then it cannot be banned. It has now been over than a month and the judgment has still not been announced yet. I personally requested the honourable judge that if the decision is delayed any further, trust in the professionalism of the judiciary would be lost since such delays would hamper the growth of the entertainment industry as filmmakers would be hesitant in making a film on social issues in the future. The decision is still pending.
Readers might think that writing this article is perhaps an impractical mistake and that I might destroy my career by writing such a piece. But I have strong faith in Allah Almighty. Judges must also understand it. They are also answerable to Allah and not to the people at the helm of the affairs. If judges have to play dilatory tactics to keep the government satisfied then what is the difference between a judge and a civil servant? The point is that if honourable judges become stooges then who shall guard the guards? And that day is not far when every citizen will wonder how law is being practiced in a lawless state. There is a well known saying that “judges are not final because they are infallible. Judges are infallible only because they are final”. Judges should at least give the final word on an issue rather than becoming ‘silent spectators’ by indulging in dilatory tactics. I hope this article serves as an eye opener on the matter. The new Chief Justice comes as a ray of hope and I support him in the cause of reforming the legal system because “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of CourtingTheLaw.com or any organization with which he might be associated.