It seems that reform of the judiciary was on everyone’s mind when the previous Chief Justice was in charge and taking discretionary action on any subject that he deemed fit. Political parties facing the brunt of his activism were the loudest with their proposals, while government officials who had to readjust their policies in the uncharted waters of suo moto actions joined in the chorus too. Matters reached a crescendo when Chief Justice Asif Saeed Khosa took charge, and in his inaugural address touched on all these issues and painted a picture of what a reformed judiciary would look like.

Yet all that optimism and political will seems to have faded away. The conversation regarding reforms in the judiciary has taken a backseat, and while the deadlock in the parliament has been an impediment to any legislation – let alone a complicated and divisive piece of legislation like this – a complete disinterest by all political parties is also to be blamed.

The problems faced by the judiciary continue unabated. On Friday, Chief Justice Asif Saeed Khosa regretted that the judiciary was often mocked about the staggering 1.9 million pending cases in its different tiers when it could not be squarely held responsible for the backlog - for a population of 210 or 220 million people, there were only 3,000 judges and magistrates available from top to bottom. This strongly worded observation came during the hearing of a civil case in which the chief justice bemoaned that almost 25 per cent seats in the judiciary of Pakistan were vacant.

The Chief Justice did not simply bemoan these problems, but laid them squarely at the feet of the government, saying that successive governments had failed to suitably increase the number of judges and magistrates on account of financial constraints.

The lack of judges is not the only structural problem identified by the Chief Justice; he said that “time had also come when the judicial system as a whole needed to be redesigned or restructured and made simple and effective”. He proposed replacement of the four-tier judicial hierarchy with a three-tier system wherein there should be district judiciary as trial court for all civil and criminal cases, the provincial high courts as the courts of appeal in all cases and the Supreme Court as the last resort, while all special courts should be abolished.

This is a strong statement by the apex judge that should be given its proper weightage, and the stalled reform process needs to be restarted.