By IQTIDAR GILANI AND FIDA HUSSNAIN

LAHORE -  The acquittal of a murder accused after 24 years and two real brothers’ hanging has put a serious question mark on the country’s judicial system.

The apex court acquitted Mazhar Farooq, a resident of Kaseer Singhwala in district Kasur, in a murder case on Friday last due to a weak prosecution and evidence, directing his immediate release. He, however, had to spend prime period of his life behind bars.

The case reminded the more shocking incident of the apex court’s acquittal of the two real brothers who had been executed about one year back. Mazhar Farooq was lucky in the sense that he was not hanged like Ghulam Sarwar and Ghulam Qadir.

Religious scholars, leading jurists and human rights activists expressed concerns over inordinate delay in dispensation of justice and disposal of cases, suggesting improvement in the existing laws, reforms in the judicial system and recruitment of judicial officers against vacant posts to end backlog of pending cases.

JUI-F’s senior leader, Hafiz Hussain Ahmed, held the judicial system of the British era responsible for delay in dispensation of justice. “Justice delayed is justice denied and it is due to shortcomings in the prevailing judicial system and rampant corruption right from registration of an FIR to final verdicts,” he said.

“We need wealth of Qaroon, age of Noah and patience of Ayyub to get justice from courts”, he said. “Justice is costly and delayed. Law is the same, but its implication varies for the well-off and the poor. Corruption starts from registration of an FIR. Police can add such things as benefit accused. Majority can’t afford fees of lawyers. ‘Hire the judge instead of a lawyer’ is a common public perception. As such all indicators are against the poor and in favour of the rich,” Hafiz Hussain Ahmed said, adding speedy trial as envisaged by Islam would not only satisfy litigants but also help curb crimes. “Those responsible for confining a person for such a long period should be punished,” he said.

JI senior leader Farid Ahmed Piracha suggested amending laws, reforming the judicial system and hiring more judicial officers for disposal of pending cases.

“The prevailing laws and the system are responsible for hearing of a case for years. It is against Islamic jurisprudence which stresses speedy trial and early dispensation of justice. Shortage of judges is causing frequent adjournments that prolong cases. In majority of cases, final verdicts come at a time when the accused have already completed sentence. Undue political interference is hampering filling vacant posts and creating more slots for judges. The ruling elite are paying no attention to the most important issue of provision of early justice,” he said.

Senior lawyers believe that keeping an innocent person in detention for 24 years is failure of the system. They hold judges, lawyers, prosecutors and police responsible for the irreparable loss caused by such a prolonged detention.

AK Dogar, a constitutional expert, said it was unfortunate. “The judicial system needs reforms for dispensation of justice without any delay,” he said. “If a convict who is prima facie guilty and is found involved in a case in which he is likely to be acquitted, he can be kept out of jail till the final verdict of the SC,” Dogar said. He quoted Section 426 of Criminal Procedure Code in which a convict’s sentence could be suspended till the final decision. “Courts do not apply mind while deciding matters at the lower level as the judges enjoy games in chambers and lawyers hold strikes,” he said. He further stated lack of spirit for hard work and preparation of cases in the courts was a major factor behind poor decisions and quality of justice.

Abid Hassan Minto, another senior lawyer, termed the incident failure of the system. “It is ‘andhair nagri’ (lawlessness),” he said.

Former Supreme Court Bar Association President Barrister Ali Zafar said: “We are an ill nation and we have to cure ourselves”.

“Investigation, prosecution and the judicial system need reforms otherwise such tragedies of the weak system would continue to make people suffer. Article 10A of the Constitution guarantees fair trail, so a convict must be given a chance of being heard,” he added.

Former Human Rights Commission of Pakistan chairman IA Rehman stressed the need of compensating the aggrieved persons and families and taking practical measures to avoid such unfortunate incidents in future.

“Who is responsible for such a long imprisonment when the person was not guilty? He went to the prison as a young man and came out as an old man. He should be given compensation for wastage of prime period of his life behind bars. It is unfortunate that two real brothers had already been hanged when the court acquitted them of murder charges. It confirmed the legitimacy of our demand of abolishing capital punishment,” he said.

“Our system is so bad that one gets justice with inordinate delay. Registration of a case against the entire opponent family and witnesses telling a lie is a normal routine. There is a room for corruption and cases continue for a longer period. There is a need to improve the judicial system and expedite the process of disposal of cases,” the prominent human rights activist said.