In chapter 15, titled ‘Lahore Police Training College, Lahore, Pakistan’, of the recently released, headline-grabbing, James Bond-esque in nature, explosive memoir, titled ‘The Contractor’, the former US Special Forces member/private security contractor Raymond Davis describes his experience with the Pakistani judicial system in the following words:

“… both of the courtrooms looked about the same: small, dark, and poorly ventilated. They resembled shoeboxes more than they did actual courts of law. One was no bigger than a couple hundred square feet. The other was actually closer to a hundred, and yet somehow dozens of people still managed to cram themselves inside it. In some ways, the cramped quarters reminded me of being inside a C-130 Hercules aircraft packed full of soldiers preparing to make a jump. Given the choice, I would have much rather been inside one of those planes.”

A few paragraphs later, he adds that:

“To bluntly summarize the 2008 USAID report ‘Pakistan Rule of Law Assessment’, the court system in Pakistan is a junk show. Judges are poorly paid, frequently threatened by terrorists, and expected to handle an impossible workload. Thanks to a system that encourages lawyers to use delaying tactics and doesn’t allow plea bargaining, the courts suffer from an extremely high backlog of cases. Worse, when defendants finally do make it in front of a judge, they’re often met with corruption. According to a 2010 State Department report, even Pakistan’s Anti-Terrorism Courts, a parallel judicial system created by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in 1997 to expedite justice for those brought up on terrorism charges, had a shockingly high acquittal rate. Because of the ineptitude of bumbling prosecutors and intimidated judges, three out of every four suspected terrorists in Pakistan were found not guilty and let go.”

This article will not explore the political elements present in Davis’s book, and neither will it comment upon the consequences and repercussions, political or otherwise, that may result or occur in the future following its release. The following is also not a critique or review of Davis’ gripping account of the fiasco that unveiled on Mozang Chowk, Lahore in 2011 and the events that followed, which, for anyone who needs motivation to read it, reads more like a spy thriller than anything else.

This is owing to the fact that I am only concerned with a small aspect that this book brings into attention. It is small only when taken in the context of the larger scheme of the memoir from its author’s perspective, for it is otherwise a giant in its own right when taken in isolation. That aspect being the dilapidated and ever-worsening state of our judicial system. Although it was touched upon in a relatively cursory manner, this aspect, in my opinion, demands as much as attention as the other aspects of the book have been given.

Belonging to a non-legal background and having practised law for only 2 years, I do not deem myself qualified in any way to comment upon the history of our legal system. I will, therefore, refrain from engaging in any such activity. However, being novice to the legal world has a rare few advantages; one of them is able to relate to accounts such as Davis’. As I read Davis’ portrayal of his first clash with our judicial system, I could not help but go in a reverie about my own first experience with it. It pained me to relate to it, but I knew that if I had written about it two years ago, my account would not have been that much different to that of Davis. I do not know what it is like “being inside a C-130 Hercules aircraft packed full of soldiers preparing to make a jump”, but I do not have to dig deep to understand why Davis would rather have been inside of one of those than in one of our district court rooms facing a criminal trial. I also remember being shocked about the state of the infrastructure and environment when I went inside a court room in the Islamabad District Courts for the first time. My first thought was “is this really a court of law?” followed by “this surely cannot be one”!

Lurking behind this state of the affairs is the reason as to why so many excited newcomers, brimming with eagerness and passion to join the legal fraternity and practise litigation, leave after experiencing the practical reality of our system within a matter of months. Poor working conditions and pitiful infrastructure is a big cause behind these newcomers’ emigration to corporate legal jobs or other careers. One can only wonder about the amount of talent that has been lost because of our legal system’s current working conditions. There is no denying that it is hard to enter any profession and one must develop perseverance and resilience during the initial period to be adopted into the profession one is trying to break into. At the same time, however, conditions must be such that make new entrants feel welcome and encourage them to overcome the initial hurdles with the hope of making their mark. They should not be so bad that they force an alarming number of newcomers to look for other options.

We must endeavour to improve the working conditions of our courts at district level. In the context of the fact that every criminal trial starts at a district court, the need to improve the infrastructure and environment of district courts cannot be overstated. My emphasis on the need for improvement of these elements do not mean that I am oblivious to the pressing requirement of substantive changes in the law and procedure, which are undoubtedly far more important. However, the latter demand much more time and are difficult to implement, while the former are relatively easier to make and pack a more immediate punch.

Davis’ memoir will be read by thousands of foreign nationals owing to its controversial and explosive nature. Although most of them probably will not spend too much time reflecting on the way our judicial system has been portrayed in it, for there are far more other gripping aspects demanding attention, yet the pitiful depiction of our legal system will involuntarily imprint itself in their subconsciousness. We only have ourselves to blame for that. Raising fingers at a political system or calling into question a military regime is not the same as deeming a judicial system incompetent and corrupt. Even if the former components are portrayed as defective, a society can still lay a claim to some respect if the latter is reputable. If a view is created, however, that a society’s legal system is unjust then it becomes extremely difficult for a society to redeem its reputation. For, the way a legal system disburses justice among those who knock on its doors is a mirror to see the true nature of the society harbouring that legal system. Any cracks in that mirror are extremely hard to remedy, and the only course then left is to replace such a mirror with a new one.

Raising fingers at a political system or calling into question a military regime is not the same as deeming a judicial system incompetent and corrupt.