Lahore   -   The evening court project launched at the Judicial Complex by the Lahore High Court last year to facilitate working litigants and children and ease backlog of cases is unlikely to be extended to other parts of the province due to its failure to attract litigants.

On November 9, 2018, then Lahore High Court (LHC) chief justice Anwaarul Haq launched an evening court especially to facilitate the working litigants and the children of separated parents away from traditional environment of courts, and hoped that the project would be expanded to other parts of the Punjab province.

The court’s policy says, “The establishment of ‘Evening Court’ by the Lahore High Court Lahore to secure welfare of the minors and protect best interests of the litigant public belonging to the working class. It will help reduce the voluminous backlog of cases.”

At present, the total number of cases transferred by the family and guardian court to the evening court is 12 including execution petitions (4); custody petitions (3); suits for dissolution of marriage, restitution of conjugal rights and maintenance one each. Since its establishment on November 9, 2018, the evening court has decided 98 cases.

On the other side there are 17 family courts and 6 guardian courts set up in Lahore while a total of 10,680 family cases with 80 percent of divorce and 3,430 guardian cases have been filed in Lahore courts so far in the current year. In the last year, 19,217 family and 6,058 guardian cases were filed. The number of two years cases is in addition to the cases lying pending for the past many years with these court.

It is legal requirement that “the district and sessions judge shall transfer only those cases to Evening Courts in which both the parties and their respective counsels will give their consent before the court of regular working hours for transfer of their cases.”

The court officials on the condition of anonymity said that the cases are transferred to the evening court with the consent of the parties. They further said that litigants particularly working parents were found willing to get their cases transferred to the evening court but the lawyers refuse to attend the court in the evening. Some of the lawyers including Rana Ayoob, Sardar Shahnawaz Hanjara, Shehbaz Bhatti were of the view that it was not possible for them to remain in the court in the evening after passing the whole day in other courts.

As the initiative of evening courts aims to secure the welfare of the minors and protect the interests of the litigant public belonging to working class, this court established by the Lahore High Court has definitely provided relief regarding visitation of children with their separate parents in a well furnished and well maintained room where all necessary facilities have been provided for the visitors. The court has been successful to provide the children with a better environment during their visitation on Saturdays.

As per the policy of the court, “The district and sessions judge (D&SJ) shall forward weekly progress report to the Lahore High Court on every Saturday. However, the court officials could not provide even a single such weekly report even on repeated demands. The court official said that currently there are 180 visitation petitions and the court has been successfully facilitating the parents and their children for their meeting in the room situated next to the evening court.

At the time of its establishment, the then chief justice of the Lahore High court had desired for extending the project to 36 other districts if required for expeditious disposal of the cases.

In presence of current Chief Justice Sardar Muhammad Shamim Khan, Justice Muhammad Farrukh Irfan Khan, Justice Athir Mahmood, Justice Shakilur Rehman Khan, then District and Sessions Judge Lahore Abid Hussain Qureshi, the Lahore Bar Association office-bearers, then LHC chief justice Muhammad Anwaarul Haq had inaugurated the project to reduce the backlog of cases. Nevertheless, the court seems to be failed to help dispose of rising number family and guardian cases.

In addition, then chief justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar in a message sent and read out in inaugural ceremony had applauded the project taken by Justice Anwaarul Haq to start the evening court for early disposal of family matters first in the provincial capital. He had said in the message, “I am highly privileged and honoured to convey a message on the occasion of the inauguration of the first ever Evening Court…I have no doubt in my mind that this project will help in the expeditious disposal of family cases which will in turn not only protect the interests of the litigant public but more importantly, the welfare of the minors involved.”

However, the evening court could not completely come up to the expectations expressed at the time of its inauguration.

When contacted, LBA President Asim Cheema dispelled the impression that the lawyers were a hurdle in the transfer of family and guardian cases to the evening court. He hoped that the project will expand to other district of the Punjab but, he said, it would take some time. He also said that the project was in the interest of litigants public especially the minors.