Reforming The Justice System
We have come a long way in the past two weeks, have we not? There were murmurs of chaos with financial analysts painting a bleak picture of the economy should, as was then anticipated, Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif be disqualified. There were political pundits who suspected the intervention of unwanted powers, this time as foot soldiers of the judiciary. Yet, we now have a new Prime Minister in office and an apparently working democracy. This piece, however, is neither about Prime Minister Abbasi nor the person he replaced at the helm.
Ever since that apparently great movement for the restoration of former Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, political debates in Pakistan have often centered around the role of the judiciary in either being a relentless check on the unbridled power of the executive or, more realistically, being an interventionist having a narrative of its own.
In almost four years after the movement for the restoration of Justice Chaudhry, it was commonly believed that there would be a rollback of some of his – with due respect lest I be held in contempt – idiosyncrasies, and it was anticipated by many that these would lay the foundations for a new narrative for our judiciary, which is arguably manned by some of the finest legal wizardries this country has ever had. It was reasonably thought that antagonists of Chaudhry’s excessive suo moto powers and adjudication of cases under original jurisdiction of the apex court would curb the interventionist policies of the judiciary and write down a new chapter based on the bedrock of constitutional restraint. Alarmingly, the new chapter being authored at present flames the perception that the current dispensation wants to be seen as more active than Justice Chaudhry, which is no mean feat. Much credit of this, indeed, is owed to Justice Chaudhry who successfully ensured that the Supreme Court in general and the office of the Chief Justice of Pakistan in particular was respected, be it out of fear or as a stakeholder as one of the pillars of power, along with the executive and the legislature.
However, in raising the stature of Supreme Court, other tiers of the judiciary particularly the District Courts, were conveniently saddled with the perception that justice would not prevail unless the case was before the Supreme Court or, in some instances, the High Courts. An already fragile and feeble tier of the judiciary was left hanging dry when an opportunity presented itself to revamp and restructure the soul of the institution and bring about a qualitative change in the forums which most of the populace would approach for the redressal of grievances.
We, the lawyers, will vouch that the district judiciary is in an abject state whereas the High Courts are now regularly known to adjudicate cases before them on a whim rather than the law. Whilst rendering advice to their clients, it is common practice for lawyers to predict the outcome of a case based on the judge rather than a point of law.
Inevitably, the focus then shifts onto the Supreme Court of Pakistan for heralding justice, which it has done so admirably in several cases, although on some occasions the basic fundamentals have been compromised (the right of appeal or the right to a fair trial, among others).
Today, however, amidst rumblings of whether a right to appeal a judgment of the Supreme Court under its original jurisdiction should be constitutionally mandated or not, we seem to have missed a very important point. Instead of focusing on adding a right to appeal, would it not be more advisable to bring about meaningful and constructive reform in the judicial system? Would it not be right to give confidence to those who beseech the Supreme Court that the other tiers of the judiciary will also dispense justice?
A few years ago, the much-hyped-yet-rarely-achieving-anything-of-note judicial conferences organized to showcase the glory of our most popular Chief Justice, Dr. Tariq Hassan – if I recall correctly – had proposed that tiers of the judiciary ought to be reduced from four to three by culling Civil Judges and making Additional District Courts the trial courts. This proposal is worth pondering over since our justice system is in doldrums and begging for prompt remedial action which can only be possible upon a radical shake-up of both law which elongates litigation, and the system under which lawyers thrive, not for assisting in dispensing justice but in fact for being hurdles! Instead of focusing energies on adding another appeal in the already delayed system of justice, efforts should be realigned towards improving the quality of judges and judgments at the lower tiers of the judiciary.
The road ahead will not be easy as the worthy Chief Justice of the Lahore High Court is probably finding out. But now is as good a time to reform the judiciary and put an end to how the system is abused by those who thrive on its omnipresent shortcomings!
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