There should be no point in concealing that our judiciary is in crisis and restoring its credibility in the eyes of the people is a gauntlet thrown down none else that the judiciary itself. The judiciary, today, cannot hide behind the usual excuses that point fingers towards other institutions for its failures. If it’s failing to deliver now, it is solely for the reasons to be found from within.

On Panama leaks, the hitherto proceedings in the SC are interpreted by ordinary Joes as the SC being pleased to describe Hamid Khan’s arguments in the case, needless to mention how damaging that proved for Hamid Khan’s political and legal career. It’s not very amusing to see the SC is being judged by the same standards that it set during the hearings of the Panama case. The new Chief Justice has not yet taken his oath but he has to give explanations – not on his legal competence, that he is said to have in abundance, but on his impartiality. He was Secretary Law of the PML-N government immediately before his elevation as a judge.

It’s a great relief that the system of elevation of judges through a faulty system mainly based of political affiliations has already been done away with by the Eighteenth Amendment. But it still has to take a few more years for the judiciary to put up with the allegation of partisanship since the appointees of the old system are at the highest positions of their careers now. Judges making appointments of judges for High Courts was a big step towards an independent judiciary but the new system too become controversial as the appointments were found devoid of any objective and merit-based criteria. So the lawyers belonging to certain chambers and families, mainly traced to the sitting or retired judges and prominent lawyers, made it as ‘My Lords’. The only resistance that could have come was from lawyers in bar politics, therefore, a piece of the pie was the answer. That was bound to invite criticism from the independent sections understanding the ins-and-outs of our judicial system- and it did come.

Thankfully, the recent appointments in Lahore High Court took a little step ahead towards transparency. As per some media reports, Chief Justice LHC sent performas to as many as 250 intending lawyers, who were required to submit their cases’ details, were scrutinised in a somewhat objective way and the result was that some of the best qualified were appointed. To quote two examples, Justice Chaudhry Abdul Aziz and Justice Bashir Paracha were the best lawyers of their bars in criminal filed. Though both are closely related to former judges, but no eyebrows have been raised. Similarly a good number was elevated from sessions judges which is also highly appreciated. Chief Justice of Pakistan, Justice Anwar Zaheer and Chief Justice of LHC, Justice Mansoor Ali Shah deserve the highest accolades. But that’s not saying that all appointments were the best or that there is no need to systematise objectivity and merit through necessary laws, rules and regulations. The fewer is left to the discretion of individual judges – CJs of HCs and the CJP in this case, the better.

The second most important issue that needs immediate attention is the training of judges of higher courts. The way courts are conducted needs a lot of improvement. Justice should not only be done but it should also appear to be done. Some times the justice is not even being done but many a time judges are doing justice, but to a common man they do not appear to be doing it. Before giving them judicial assignments they should be sensitised on how judges’ conduct in courts affects the credibility of the judiciary. When a common man observes elitist behaviour of judges – big names are given special treatment, elite litigants are treated differently, some lawyers get hours of court time and for others crossing the five minutes threshold becomes a daunting task, some lawyers get short adjournments with quick disposals, while others are left to test their patience, some decisions are written quickly while others have to wait for weeks and months – he takes the impression that decisions are made according to the face value and not the merits of the cases.

And that takes us to the third problem. On administration of court affairs in the HCs and the SC, an unreasonably large part is left to the discretion of judges. An intensive effort is required to bring the discretion of the judges to the minimum and bring everything under the umbrella of rules and regulations in black and white.

Our subordinate judiciary needs immediate reforms and corruption needs to be curbed. An effort is observed in Punjab in this regard. But the wrong way has been invented to achieve the right goal. Delaying the promotions of hundreds of judges with allegedly bad reputations without even passing adverse orders, so they cannot avail the remedy in higher forums, goes against the approach of systematically resolving the problems. Such subjective and impulsive tools give rise to ad-hocism, which is part of the problem instead of being a solution.