The judicial reforms have been amongst the most widely discussed as well as most frequently promised reforms in Pakistan for decades. Unluckily, at the same time, they have also been the least implemented ones. There has hardly been any serious endeavour to introduce any significant reforms to substantially improve our ailing justice system. Through a series of columns, I have made an attempt to elaborate and discuss one of the important aspects of judicial reforms- the civil justice reforms. Having identified some basal flaws and defects in our civil justice system, I proposed a roadmap and legal strategy to rectify them. In fact, this humble attempt was primarily aimed at providing some food for thought besides sensitising those who matter when it comes to reforming our justice system.

It is very encouraging that the Honourable Chief Justice Lahore High Court Mr. Justice Muhammad Anwaarul Haq has positively responded to some civil justice reforms recently proposed by me. I have also had the privilege to meet him to have a candid discussion on this important subject. He certainly looked very keen and determined to substantially improve the state and quality of the dispensation of justice in the province. He also openly invited practical suggestions for this specific purpose. I really appreciate his concern and commitment towards this crucial issue. In fact, he took charge as the constitutional head of provincial judiciary just a few days ago. However, in a short time span, he has passed a number of administrative orders largely to improve and streamline the working of the district judiciary ranging from ensuring online availability of the substantial orders and judgments passed by the judicial officers to speedy disposal of the cases at trial and appellate stages. He has also instructed District Judges to regularly hold meetings of the District Criminal Justice Coordination Committees throughout the province. Moreover, a pilot project of an ‘evening court’ has also been launched in Lahore. Though it has not been publicised, it is also good to know that he has refused to enjoy the security protocol reserved for the Chief of Lahore High Court. Indeed, these measures are appreciable and should be replicated in other provinces too.

Former Chief Justice Lahore High Court Syed Mansoor Ali Shah also proactively tried to improve the state of justice system in the province by introducing some administrative reforms to it. But regrettably, the Bar didn’t play its due role in implementing this reform agenda. A large number of hawkish lawyers also openly opposed and resisted these reforms. Similarly, there has also been no matching response from the apex judiciary and the executive to implement these reforms in Punjab. Consequently, this reform process couldn’t last long. As a matter of fact, proposing and implementing judicial reforms in Pakistan involve a highly centralized legal process where the Chief Justice of Pakistan just plays a pivotal role. He is ex-officio head of Law and Justice Commission of Pakistan (LJCP) as well as the National Judicial (Policy Making) Committee (NJPMC), the two premier legal bodies meant for proposing and implementing judicial reforms in Pakistan. LJCP is primarily responsible for studying and reviewing statutes and other laws and making recommendations to federal and provincial governments to “improve, modernise and reform” these laws. Similarly, NJPMAC is supposed to set performance standards for judicial officers besides improving the capacity of the administration of justice in the country.

Making a large number of recommendations to improve the country’s justice system, NJPMAC has devised and announced various judicial policies. It also passed ‘Islamabad Declaration 2018’ under the aegis of Law and Justice Commission of Pakistan at the conclusion of 8th Judicial Conference held in Islamabad in May this year. This Declaration includes a number of recommendations on various “themes” regarding regional economic integration and CPEC-related dispute resolution, strategies for expeditious disposal of cases, alternative dispute resolution methodologies, legal education and judicial selection criteria, and revamping the criminal justice system. It was also recommended to replace our existing four-tier court system with a three-tier system. But unfortunately, no judicial policy, including the recent Islamabad Declaration, could effectively be implemented in the absence of required resolution to perform this task. And implementing these recommendations still appears to be nobody’s cup of tea in the country.

The Honourable Chief Justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar has expressed, on a number of occasions, his strong intention to substantially reform the country’s judicial system. Therefore, many were hoping that he would focus on introducing some fundamental reforms in the justice system after concluding the much-hyped Panamagate case. However, after the conclusion of this important case, the disqualification cases against PTI Chairman Imran Khan and Jahangir Tareen just took center stage. Moreover, the apex court also started exercising its extraordinary Suo Motu jurisdiction by taking cognizance of diverse cases involving various federal and provincial public departments throughout the country. So, regrettably, the ‘judicial activism’ just eclipsed the much-needed judicial reforms in Pakistan.

Most of the arguments favouring the exercise of Suo Motu jurisdiction by the apex court primarily revolve around a single point i.e. the malfunction or non-function of the executive branch of the government. However, it is also a fact that the performance of the judiciary is by no means better than that of any subordinate department of the executive in Pakistan. The establishment and continuance of military trial courts speak volumes about the miserable state of our criminal justice system. Therefore, the superior judiciary should have focused on improving the state of the country’s justice system by introducing some structural and functional reforms to it rather than trying to overhaul the executive. Indeed, one should be just before claiming to be generous.

PTI has been a standard-bearer of ‘justice’, ‘change’ and ‘reforms’. Since PTI has succeeded in forming its governments at Center and in two major provinces, now this party is in a strong position to implement its promised reform agenda. Undoubtedly, introducing and implementing judicial reforms in Pakistan is the collective duty of the Parliament, federal and provincial governments, provincial legislatures and High Courts, and the legal fraternity. Nevertheless, in view of the prevailing judicial culture and specific legal regime in the country, Chief Justice of Pakistan is required to play a pro-active role in initiating and implementing this reform process. He is currently actively doing a lot of things in the name of preserving fundamental rights of the citizens by taking Suo Motu actions. It is high time the right to quality justice should also be presumed or interpreted as one of the fundamental rights of Pakistanis.

 

The writer is a lawyer and columnist

based in Lahore.

 mohsinraza.malik@ymail.com

@MohsinRazaMalik