Rule of Law: Pakistan’s Get-Out-of-Jail-Free Card
A few weeks ago, a writ petition falling under the purview of Protection Against Harassment of Women at the Workplace Act 2010 was presented before the Islamabad High Court. The presiding judge asked only one question: “Was the harassment of a sexual nature?” When the counsel replied ‘no’, the judge declared, “Then it wasn’t harassment,” and set the file aside.
The judge was within his powers to do so, as Section 2(h) of the 2010 Act loosely defines harassment under sexual acts. This is the law – the law that slaps a limited and coarse definition of a struggle many women face every day and the law that disables these very women from receiving justice. On the other hand, this is also a law which, in stark contrast to other common law states, defines harassment to be more than just a sexual act.
This begs the question of how far the rule of law can be applied in Pakistan. How can we as citizens of Pakistan chant slogans for demanding the law to prevail above all else when it is our own law that does not hold up its end of the bargain? How can equity and equality exist in a state which allows a large proportion of criminal acts to be swept under the rug due to inadequacies in the foundation of the legal system?
We can find laws in Pakistan coming out of every nook and cranny, but what good are sections or articles if they are vague, ill-defined euphemisms for miscarriages of justice? Legislation in Pakistan is drowning in abnormalities that give rise to loopholes which can be used to manipulate the law. While it is the responsibility of lawyers to construe the law to their advantage, it is also the responsibility of the legal system to ensure that no one is allowed to construe any legislation in a manner that forces the innocent to suffer.
Does Pakistan need the rule of law? Absolutely. Is Pakistan’s legal system ready for the rule of law? Absolutely not.
Rule of law refers to the supremacy of law above all else. It dictates that no authority shall act in an arbitrary manner wherever the application of law is concerned. However, the manner in which our laws are carelessly strewn across the table and left to the vices of the interpreters, easily eclipses the supremacy of law. The endgame of the rule of law is to ensure that no person is allowed to deviate from the law. How, then, can justice be ensured in a country like Pakistan, where the law itself doesn’t fulfill its obligations? What good is advocating the supremacy of law when it is done so at the risk of allowing victims to suffer at the hands of the same law?
The rule of law in Pakistan is nothing but a mere tool that allows the inadequacies of our laws to be used as a get-out-of-jail-free card. Unless this changes and until the law of the land stands so strong that it cannot be used to deprive victims of the justice they deserve, there is no point in advocating for the rule of law.
While it is true that it is the rule of law which separates an unruly nation from a civilized society, it is also true that the supremacy of law cannot be achieved without the adequacy of law. The creation as well as the implementation of law, both take a backseat when it comes to the adequacy of law.
Pakistan needs to stop manufacturing Bills on its ‘assembly’ line and focus on the intricacies of law and its implications for the people whose governance it has been designed for, while also ensuring the development of proper redressal channels for those who wish to bring forth their grievances. Once a well-defined legal framework is in place, it can be used to push for the supremacy of law. If all we advocate for is the rule of law, we may leave justice behind. The purpose of law is not to have words strung together but to ensure that those who turn to the law are protected by it.
It is hoped that the rule of law will thrive in Pakistan one day, when legislation will take proper effect and no arbitrariness will be allowed to take precedence over the law. But before that is the case, and more than merely ensuring the procedural rule of law, we need to ensure that measures are being taken to actually protect the administration of justice.
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