Pakistan’s dysfunctional legal system is often quoted as the reason why people decide to take law into their own hands, be they extremist or not. The simple fact that that a nominal case takes years to resolve – that too with cajoling and pressure on the system – makes even legitimate aggrieved parties take pause. The PML-N government has promised reform, and on Minister for Climate Change and Human Rights Zahid Hamid Friday informed the National Assembly that the government is taking steps to provide speedy justice to people. While this (heavily belated) action must be appreciated, not all of the recommendations are soundly formulated.
Before criticising the outlandish ones, the government must be given credit for thinking outside the box. The justice system requires a radical overhaul; which would entail letting go of old practices and embracing new ones. As far as recommendations for digitising court proceedings and regulating alternative dispute resolution methods – such as the panchayat – go, innovation is not only appreciated but necessary. This coupled with implementation of traditional methods of increasing court productivity, such as increasing the number of judges, increasing powers of the ombudsmen and establishing new court buildings can bring down the average time of case resolution at least by a few months.
However not all such innovation is good? The minister claimed that the government was considering making courts operational in evenings to increase the time they function. The idea is intuitive, but it runs into practical difficulties on closer inspection. For evening courts to function properly, they would require all other legal institutions to be operational in the evening too. Law offices, the bar council, government offices, and related paraphernalia need to be extended, much of which would be impossible to do. Similar problems will be faced when it comes to security, the court premises often prove to be deadly places, where lawyers, police, applicants and suspect often clash violently. Extending equal amounts of police protection, especially under the cover of darkness is another daunting task. The government can avoid these difficulties by simply increasing the courthouses that function simultaneously. Then the existing security measures and collateral institutions can continue to function seamlessly.