“This is the Court of Chancery; which has its decaying houses and its blighted lands in every shire; which has its worn-out lunatic in every madhouse and its dead in every churchyard; which has its ruined suitor with his slipshod heels and threadbare dress borrowing and begging through the round of every man’s acquaintance; which gives to monied might, the means abundantly of wearying out the right; which so exhausts finances, patience, courage, hope; so overthrows the brain and breaks the heart; that there is not an honourable man among its practitioners who would not give—who does not often give—the warning, ‘Suffer any wrong that can be done you rather than come here!’”.

Anyone having dealt with the court system of Pakistan, would be tempted to think that the introductory paragraph was written with Pakistani judicial system in mind, might be surprised to know that it was written by Charles Dickens in his novel ‘Bleak House’ about English court system in mid-nineteenth century. However, even after that passage of more than 150 years, the depiction aptly reflects the current situation in Pakistani courts of law. The court system of Pakistan has become notorious for its delay in disposal of cases. Even the remedies that were supposed to be speedy and efficacious have become marred with heart-wrenching delays and adjournments. The backlog of cases is increasing day by day and situation is only going to get worse with the passage of time. World Justice Project Report, 2019, ranks Pakistan at 118th position out of 126 in terms of whether ordinary people can resolve their grievances peacefully and effectively though the civil justice system. In the administration of criminal justice system, Pakistan was ranked at 92nd position out of 126. Slow dispensation of justice is one of the major causes behind these abysmal rankings. This article summarizes some of the factors responsible for this painfully slow delivery of ‘justice’. Article also puts forward some suggestions to improve the judicial process and make speedy trials possible.

First factor is the presence of miserably low number of judges. There are an estimated 2 million cases pending in different tiers of judiciary which need to be handled by approximately 4000 judges. Pakistan has a population of more than 200 million which means there is one judge for around 50,000 people. This number is very high when compared to other countries. Australia has a population of around 25 million and has an estimated 200 number of judges making one judge responsible for 10,000 people. England and Wales have a population of 58 million and an estimated number of 2000 judges which means one judge caters to 29000 people. An average civil judge needs to deal with scores of cases each day making it impossible for him to engage with cases in an effective and judicious manner. Therefore, the number of judges should be increased in order to lessen their workload and allowing them to efficiently deal with cases in a timely manner.

Second factor is that, in most cases, there is a four tier judiciary system. This means that a case can be appealed at three tiers after decision by the trial court. This four tier system should be reduced to three tiers where trial court will give the initial decision that can be appealed at high court and supreme court level. The length of trial can be reduced if Supreme court does not take up every case. Instead, it follows the example of United States by allowing appeal only in a handful of cases where important questions of law are involved. To put things into perspective, Pakistani Supreme Court decided 26000 cases last year while the American Supreme Court took up less than 100 cases. Cases go on for decades when stay orders and bail applications are being argued at the Supreme Court level. This change of reducing the judicial tiers can only be implemented if higher judiciary is able to trust their subordinate judges. It is only by recruiting talented individuals as judges, training them in an apt manner and giving them the ample time to decide cases, that the superior judiciary can reduce its own workload by allowing appeals only where questions of law are involved.

 Third factor responsible for delay and immense workload is that Pakistan is an over-litigated society. Therefore, one way to reduce the workload on judiciary and enable judges to give proper time to cases at hand is to discourage people to come to courts. Alternative dispute mechanisms like arbitration and mediation should be strengthened. Sophisticated contractual parties should be encouraged to put arbitration clauses into their contracts. The court fees, in some instances, can be increased to decrease the demand for the court system and alternative dispute mechanisms can be strengthened to incentivize people to use them.

To conclude, arriving at a just outcome would not mean much to citizens when they have to go through decades of agony to achieve it. Justice should not only be delivered but it should be delivered in a timely manner. Only then citizens will be able to trust the judicial system of Pakistan and rule of law will be restored.