Many judges and lawyers fail to understand that the legal system is collapsing around them. Amidst lawlessness, militancy, extremism, terrorism, political unrest, ethnic qualms, ailing economy with enormous disparities between the rich and the poor, fate has not spared us. It is not an exaggeration to say that the past successive dictatorial regimes and the echelons of power have divided the people and left indelible marks of economic and social mutilation. If this has not painted the picture as it is, most certainly the mention of Sawat, Waziristan, Karachi and Balochistan tells it all. This sordid state of affairs in the country is due to poor delivery of justice. Unfortunately, we have an adulterated justice system that leaves the guilty unpunished and the victims without recompense. For a poor person access to justice in our country is elusive. They exist in theory but not in reality. Hence, justice and security has become the key concerns of the poor, both the rural and urban.
It is an obvious truth that the law is essential for a prosperous economy, the protection of rights, control of abuse of power and resolution of conflicts. The ability to access the justice system is imperative in giving content to these rights. In contrast to this, the disregard of the rule of law and the absence of legal protection is often inextricably linked to abject poverty and insecurity. Improving access to justice can directly improve the welfare of the poor. The system can be used as a powerful tool in the distribution of power and rights in order to ensure inexpensive and quick dispensation of justice.
Strangely, the poor and disadvantaged, who most require the protection, are those who are least able to access it. This is because meaningful access is often prevented by issues such as the prohibitive costs, the lack of affordable legal representation and the formalistic, complex legal procedures which remains the territory of only those with legal training. After the lawyer’s historic movement for the restoration of superior court judges’ several significant steps, such as capacity building of district judiciary judges and prosecutors, improving case processing, strengthening bar associations, and engaging in a host of other initiatives that aim to build the rule of law, have been taken to enhance and improve the delivery of justice to the poor but still much is desired in this realm.  However, to address challenges faced by the state institutions and individuals providing critical legal aid services to the poor, in particular, the marginalised segment of the society, women folk, the UNDP, through its recently launched program called ‘The Legal Empowerment Of The Poor’ (LEP) has decided to support all judicial and legal system stakeholders including judiciary, lawyers, police, prosecution, paralegal staff, NGOs etc. in improving access to services for poor. Partnerships with the Federal Judicial Academy (FJA), Islamabad and provincial judicial academies including Sindh, Punjab, KPK, Balochistan, aims to sensitise the judiciary to the challenges faced by the poor and other marginalised groups in accessing justice.
Indeed, there is no other way forward but to reform our laws, judiciaries, or other legal organizations. But in the absence of legal aid and legal empowerment, these reforms will not benefit the poor to any great degree.
HASHIM ABRO,
Islamabad, August 7.