Addressing the concluding session of the first National Roundtable Conference on Judicial Education the Chief Justice of Pakistan Justice Anwar Zaheer Jamali gave a frank admission of a fact that most of the judiciary wishes not to admit. There is an acute lack of competent judges; and competence in this context does not mean being well versed with legal maxims and procedure, it refers to having a basic command over the English language. Misinterpreting the law is an occupational error, misreading the law – literally – is institutional failure.

The CJP followed this revelation with facts proving his assertion and tentative solutions to the problem – a commendable feat. He was of the opinion that judiciary lacked able and competent judges because of an obsolete and outdated education system in the country; which divides the judges into two distinct categories; one with people having strong educational background and the other with people who joined the profession after having failed in other fields. The visible face of the judiciary – the somber justices of the High Court or the Supreme Court, in their pristine gowns and behind high wooden tables – is only a fraction of the institution, and the one that falls in the previous category. The vast majority of the profession is practiced in courts of first instance and lower appellate courts, where the latter category rules. It is small comfort that cases will be ultimately decided by competent judges, because not all decisions can be appealed and only a minority of individuals has the funds to sustain a appeal in the High Court.

The fact that a legally illiterate applicant’s case will be decided by a person who cannot read the statute book in front of him should send a shiver down the government’s spine, and cause it to take notice immediately.

The government would do well to heed the suggestions of the CJP, who believed that a legal education could be an effective stop-gap measure in the absence of extensive education reform. The suggestion is fairly simple to implement and has been done by the government before; when it has held education and training courses for officers coming to terms with new technology or policies. A mandatory English proficiency course followed by a legal interpretation and procedure course will go a long way into mitigating the problems caused by lack of education.