LAHORE – The lawyers secured restoration of independent judiciary more than three years ago, but access to justice is still a far cry for the public at large – primarily because of endless divisions among the Black Coats.

Among the recent disputes is the one involving filling of 49 vacant posts of the judges at country’s high courts, it is learnt.

The appointment process has been halted as the Pakistan Bar Council (PBC) has yet to decide the name of its representative to the meeting of nine-member Judicial Commission (JC), which is headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhary.

The PBC has expressed concerns over the rules and policy of the commission, saying that the minutes of the commission’s meetings had not been shared with the bars’ representatives and they were not briefed about the nominations of lawyers for appointment as judges of high courts.

According to the statistics available with this scribe, about 24 out of 60 sanctioned vacancies of judges in the Lahore High Court are vacant. Likewise, 15 posts out of 35 are vacant at Sindh High Court, eight out of 20 posts at Peshawar High Court and two posts out of 10 at Balochistan High Court are vacant for months.

The shortage of judges at LHC, the highest court of the most populous province of the country, is an old issue that has not been resolved for many years. About 156,000 cases are pending with the LHC alone.

Due to this shortage of judges, thousands of cases of poor litigants, many of whom participated in the lawyers’ movement, are pending before the high courts. These statistics suggest that instead of tall claims by the government, lawyers and judiciary, practical steps to fill the vacant posts and to provide justice to the people are needed urgently. PBC Vice Chairman Akhtar Hussain says the council through a resolution has deferred participation in the meetings of the Judicial Commission because the lawyers’ concerns were not being addressed. He says the lawyers were treated the way like puppets during the JC meetings as they were not provided with minutes of the meetings and told nothing about the nominations for judges’ seats.

Akhtar says the PBC being the apex body of the legal fraternity and one of the stake holders has time and again emphasised that process of appointment of judges to the superior courts should be transparent. “Our single concern is that the role of bar’s representatives in the commission meetings should be defined.” He also demanded amendments in the rules of judicial commission. “We believe that our concerns cannot be addressed until the rules framed by the judicial commission are suitably amended.”

In view of article 175 of the constitution, the proceeding of a parliamentary committee can be in-camera, but there is a provision in the article not to disclose the proceedings of JC, Hussain argues. The PBC VC also demands the nominees of the bar councils to judicial commission should be meaningfully consulted in respect of the appointment of judges and they should also be included in the decision making during the whole process.

When asked whether the poor litigants had anything to do with judiciary’s internal fights, he denied accepting any responsibility for their miseries saying that the judicial commission is primarily responsible for filling the judges’ vacancies. “It is not a dispute, it is a matter of lawyers’ right,” he adds. He says the PBC in its next meeting of general house would decide whether its representative should go to the commission’s meetings or not.

Meanwhile, the Punjab Bar Council has also came out in support of the PBC and decided to ‘defer’ the sending of its representative in the JC meeting.

The Judicial Commission comprises a chairman, who is CJP, four sitting and one former judge of the apex court, federal law minister (Farooq H Naek), Attorney General of Pakistan (Irfan Qadir) and a member of PBC who is elected for a period of two years. The members of provincial bar councils have also been nominated additionally for consultation.