Feeling themselves aggrieved by the current judicial recruitment policy in Punjab, a large number of civil judges have formally moved the Supreme Court of Pakistan and Lahore High Court through as many as six separate constitutional petitions. In the petitions, these judges-turned-litigants are primarily asking for the enforcement of a uniform recruitment policy in Punjab besides putting an end to the discrimination against them vis-à-vis the induction of 158 Additional District and Session Judges recently advertised by the LHC. It is a paradoxical situation that the persons, who are supposed to provide justice to the masses, can now be seen wandering anxiously in the corridors of the superior courts to seek justice for themselves.

Through the 19th constitutional amendment, an attempt has been made to reform the procedure for the appointment of judges of the superior courts in Pakistan by taking all the so-called stakeholders on board. In fact, aimed at improving the state of dispensation of justice, all the endeavours for introducing extensive judicial reforms in the country, have mostly been revolving around the superior judiciary only. On the other hand, no serious attempt has ever been made to improve the general state and efficiency of the lower judiciary that handles almost 90% of total litigation in the country. Presently, there hardly exists any comprehensive mechanism for the appointment, posting, evaluation and promotion of the judges of lower judiciary.

Under the Punjab Judicial Service Rules, 1994, the Punjab Public Service Commission (PPSC) is authorized body to conduct competitive examination for the selection of Civil Judge-cum-Judicial Magistrates in the province. However, despite strong opposition from the Services and General Administration Department (S&GAD), the Chief Minister of Punjab, who is a competent authority under Rule 5 of the Punjab Public Service (Functions) 1978, has allowed the LHC to make recruitments against the vacant posts of Civil Judges-cum-Judicial Magistrates in the province.

Now, instead of PPSC, the LHC is conducting examinations for the recruitment to the posts of Civil Judge-cum-Judicial Magistrate in Punjab for some years. Regrettably, instead of further improving the selection criteria for the judges to ensure the induction of quality stuff in this crucial department, the existing institutional mechanism has been discarded by stripping the PPSC of its powers to make these appointments. In fact, various Public Service Commissions have been established at federal and provincial level in Pakistan primarily to ensure merit and transparency in the selection process for the public sector appointments.

In Punjab, the LHC has advertised 158 posts of Additional District and Session Judges. At the same time, it has also significantly lowered the standard for the written examination for these posts. An AD&SJ (BPS-20) acts as the presiding officer of the lower appellate court besides trying high-profile criminal cases, including the heinous crimes like terrorism and murder. Therefore, this post should be occupied by an individual possessing the high professional as well as intellectual capabilities.

At Present, the induction of these AD& SJ’s has become a matter of serious concern for the serving civil judges and judicial magistrates in Punjab. They are apprehensive that the direct induction of such a large number of AD&SJ’s at once would significantly minimize, or rather diminish, the prospects for their elevation to the posts of in future. Besides this, they are of the view that these appointments will also utterly disturb their 60% agreed reserved quota for these post through their departmental promotion.

Last year, when the LHC advertised these posts, it specifically allowed the civil judges, with 10 years of service, to appear in these examinations. Consequently, many eligible serving civil judges in Punjab duly applied for these posts after getting departmental permission. But strangely, the Punjab government at once chose to introduce a tailor-made amendment to the Punjab Judicial Service Rules, 1994 making these judges ineligible forthwith for these posts. Consequently, the LHC also withdrew its earlier advertisement allowing the civil judges to appear in the examination retrospectively. Now, the civil judges in Punjab are protesting against this unilateral act of the Punjab government.

It is quite ironic that their service as a judge has somehow become a major stumbling block in the way of their appointment to a higher post instead of being a positive qualification for the same. They are quite justified in their demand for considering their 10-year service period at par with the 10-year practice of a lawyer. They should certainly be provided the level playing field and equal opportunities. It is rather unjustified that a civil judge is elevated to a post after 20 to 25 years of service, which a lawyer can readily grab after 10 years of practice.

It is also pertinent here to mention that the practice of direct induction of AD&SJ’s was initiated during the period when executive magistrates used to try criminal cases at lower level. Owing to nature of their service cadre, theses magistrates could not be promoted to handle the criminal case at the session level. In order to fill these vacancies, there has been a practice of inducting the AD&SJ’s directly from amongst the lawyers with adequate criminal side practice. Therefore, after the separation of executive from the judiciary in 1994, this practice has also been abandoned. Now there is large pool well trained and experienced judicial magistrates that can be promoted to the posts of AD&SJ‘s to conveniently cater to this need at the session level.

In 2008, the Punjab chief minister formed a committee for judicial reforms in the province. Head by Justice(R) Khalil-ur-Rehman Khan, this committee has strongly recommend to make all judicial appointments, including the civil judges-cum-judicial magistrates and AD&SJ’s, through the PPSC. This committee firmly disapproved the role of High Court in these appointments. Similarly, it has also recommended to remove the restriction on the judicial offices to appear in the examination for the posts of AD&SJ. Ironically, the same chief minister of Punjab is now acting just otherwise what this committee has recommended earlier.

Presently, there is a growing sense of discontent and disappointment among the civil judges in Punjab. Upon this gross injustice and discrimination, one civil judge has resigned from his service in protest. Now many others are about to follow suit. Reportedly, they are also seriously considering the options like mass resignation and strike to press their demands. It is also very probable that they would soon be on the roads along-with other protesting employees of Punjab Government like the doctors, nurses, teachers, clerks etc. It would certainly give rise to a crisis-like situation in Punjab to the disadvantage of numerous litigants. Therefore, the CJP, CJ LHC and CM Punjab should positively intervene to prevent this troubled institution in the province from collapsing altogether.

The writer is a lawyer and columnist based in Lahore.