There is no better test of the excellence of a government”, claimed Lord James Bryce, “than the efficiency of its judicial system, for nothing more nearly touches the welfare and security of the average citizen than his sense that he can rely on the certain and prompt administration of justice.” Undoubtedly, the efficiency and effectiveness of the administration of justice is one of the basic characteristics of good governance in any state. But regrettably, the very state and quality of the dispensation of justice in Pakistan is anything but satisfactory. According to Rule of Law, Index 2014, released by the World Justice Project, Pakistan stands at 68th and 94th positions in terms of criminal and civil administration of justice respectively, among the 99 assessed countries in the world. It is quite worrisome that now Pakistan can be found only next to the least-developed countries of Africa, in similar surveys and assessments.

In general, the entire judicial structure of Pakistan can be divided in two broader categories; the superior or higher courts, and the subordinate or lower courts. There exists a hierarchy of the district courts in each province. The district courts are further subdivided in two categories; the courts of Judicial Magistrates (for criminal cases), the courts of Civil Judges (for civil cases), and the courts of District and Session judges (the lower appellate courts for both civil and criminal cases). In fact, these district courts are somewhat the backbone of the entire judicial structure of the country. These courts accommodate almost 90% of total litigation in Pakistan. The general public usually interacts with these courts most of the time. Therefore, the working and performance of these courts directly affects the common man. Regrettably, no significant effort has ever been made to improve the general state and efficiency of these courts.

Besides many other things, we inherited the current judicial system from our colonial masters at the time of independence. Presently, the provincial High Courts are supervising and controlling the district courts through certain administrative committees. In the absence of any substantial institutional mechanism to run the administrative affairs of these courts, a High Court has generally been resorting to adhocism while dealing with the district courts. These administrative committees somehow lack the required institutional capacity to monitor, evaluate the performance of the judicial officers of the lower courts. Almost same is the case with their promotion, transfer and posting.

In Punjab, the Punjab Public Service Commission (PPSC) is authorized body to recruit Civil Judge-cum-Judicial Magistrates in the province under Punjab Judicial Service Rules, 1994. Its Rule 5 says, “Appointment to a post of Civil Judge-cum-Judicial Magistrate, shall be made by initial recruitment on the recommendation of the Commission based on the result of a competitive examination conducted by it.” However, despite strong opposition from the Services and General Administration Department (S&GAD), the Lahore High Court has been allowed to make recruitments against the vacant posts of Civil Judges-cum-Judicial Magistrates by the Chief Minister Punjab, who is a competent authority under Rule 5 of the Punjab Public Service (Functions) 1978.

Now for some years, instead of the PPSC, the Lahore high Court is conducting examination for the recruitment to the posts of Civil Judges-cum-Judicial Magistrates in the province. At present, the recruitment process for the 696 posts of Civil Judges-cum-Judicial Magistrates is also in progress. Here, it is pertinent to mention that the PPSC has been finding it quite difficult to select even one hundred candidates for these posts at a time owing to the falling standards of legal education in the country. Now recruiting 696 Civil Judge-cum-Judicial Magistrate at a stretch would definitely raise many eyebrows. It is being feared that the instant addition of a large quantity of new stuff in the judicial system would further aggravate the state and quality of dispensation of justice in the province.

Similarly, the Lahore High Court has also recently advertised some 158 posts of Additional District and Session Judges (AD&SJ) in the Punjab. Strangely, significantly relaxing and lowering the standard for recruitment, the number of papers in the written examination has been reduced from 9 to only 3. Ironically, now the written examination for the posts of AD&SJ (BPS-20) in Punjab would somehow be equivalent to that of the legal inspector (BPS-16) recruited by the PPSC. In fact, the post of an Additional District and Session Judge is most crucial. He acts as the presiding officer of the lower appellate court besides trying high-profile criminal cases, including the heinous crimes like murder and terrorism. Therefore, this post necessarily demands a high intellectual as well as professional excellence.

The direct recruitment of such a large number of AD&SJ’s at once is also a matter of serious concern for the junior civil judges and judicial magistrates in Punjab. They probably feel that that these direct appointments would significantly minimize the prospects for their elevation to the posts of AD&SJ’s in future. Service promotion is usually a primary motivation for hard-work for any employee. Their dissatisfaction and discontent with the system would ultimately, affect their work performance and efficiency. As relevant work experience matters a lot for any job, therefore they must not be ignored while making appointments for any higher post.

In order to improve the efficiency of the district courts, there is a need to introduce some drastic reforms in the juridical system. First of all, all the judicial appointments should be made through a quality and credible recruiting procedure conducted by an independent public service commission. The primary constitutional role of the provincial High Courts is to determine and adjudicate the legal matters. There is a great workload due to heavy litigation and backlog of cases in the superior courts. Therefore, it would not be advisable for the High Courts to perform the very task of recruiting the judges of lower courts at the cost of their primary responsibility regarding the dispensation of justice.

The judges of the lower courts should be recruited by a professional body like the public service commission which possesses the required institutional capacity to perform this task efficiently and transparently. Instead of making lateral requirements, there should be a single-level entry into the judicial services throughout the country. Similarly, subject to the general supervision of the High Courts, there should also be established a full-fledged administrative organization in each province to supervise, monitor and evaluate the performance of the judges of district courts. This body should also decide all matters relating to the transfers, postings and promotions of these judges.

A performance-based and need-oriented service structure for the judges should be devised and enforced in each province. The training and capacity-building of the judicial officers is another important aspect that should not be ignored at all. Dealing with the lower judiciary on ad-hoc basis, and in arbitrary manner, would further aggravate the state of affairs in this already-troubled institution. Certainly, we can hardly afford the deterioration of this crucial institution which is a last resort for the aggrieved masses of the country.