When will courts clear 3m cases backlog & deliver speedy justice?
31 December 2016: Justice Mian Saqib Nisar is sworn in as the 25th Chief Justice of Pakistan.
Justice Mian Saqib Nisar was born on 18 January 1954 in Lahore and obtained an undergraduate degree in law from University of Punjab. He practiced in civil, commercial, tax and constitutional law in High and Supreme Court as a lawyer before being appointed a judge.
Before becoming the CJP, Mian Saqib Nisar served as a Judge in the Supreme Court of Pakistan (SCP). He was appointed CJP on 7 December.
It is for the first time in the history of the country that someone from the Bar had been appointed to CJP post.
Justice Saqib Nisar will be assisted by the following judges:
2 November 2015: Chief Justice of Pakistan Justice Anwar Zaheer Jamali to address Senate Committee of the Whole on steps to provide speedy and inexpensive justice in the country.
10 September: Justice Anwar Zaheer Jamali takes oath as the new Chief Justice of the SCP.
17 August: Justice Jawwad S. Khawaja takes oath as the new Chief Justice of the SCP for a 23-day tenure.
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26 June: The SCP hands down a judgment which may mitigate the sufferings of litigants due to an inordinate delay in verdicts.
In the judgment by Justice Mian Saqib Nisar, the courts are directed to deliver judgments within 30 to 90 days after the conclusion of the trial.
The Supreme Court verdict to expedite cases: Here are the deadlines to deliver judgments after the conclusion of the trial:
Civil courts 30 days
District courts 45 days
High courts 90
13 January 2015: The SCP and subordinate courts have been staring at over 1.7 million pending cases with district courts in Punjab having maximum number of unsettled cases, the National Assembly was informed. In 2017, the backlog has increased to 1.9 million, and according to another estimate, it be may have reached 3 million cases.
20 September 2014: Chief Justice Nasir-ul-Mulk said the major challenge being faced by the judiciary is to tackle increasing litigation; therefore, Judiciary must adopt proactive approach to decide cases expeditiously.
Will Pakistan’s courts ever find ways to deliver speedy justice?
Nearly 10 years ago, when I was working as Country Director of Management Development Services at British Council Pakistan, I used to conduct a program called Train The Trainer (TTT). This is now Pakistan’s longest-running TTT program, now in 16th year in 16+ Asian location.
Around that time ADB and/or UNDP ran a funded project called Access to Justice. One of the components was to train senior High Court judges to train other judges. This is where I came in.
Those were travel-safe years, and my TTT workshops would happen at all places: Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad, Peshawar, Quetta, Faisalabad, Multan and Bhurban.
In those years I had the opportunity to receive judges from high courts of all provinces and sessions courts and registrars of various high courts.
In addition, many senior judges also came to another leadership workshop that I ran, Advanced Team Leader.
2015 update: More recently I trained senior administrative, ministerial and court officers (Grade 18-20) from Lahore High Court at Punjab Judicial Academy (PJA), Lahore.
July 2017 update: This month, I trained District and Sessions Judges from Punjab at Punjab Judicial Academy (PJA), Lahore.
2016: Wali with now Chief Justice Mansoor Ali Shah of Lahore High Court and the then CJ LHC.
When I would give the judges on-course assignments, these would usually be about speedy disposal of cases and would encourage them to find innovative ways within existing human and financial constraints on how they could remove the case backlog.
Depending on the participating judge’s motivation that day, success somewhere, or no success elsewhere.
When I look back on why I would give that type of assignments, I realise that it reflected what I thought at that time was the central issue: speedy disposal of cases.
This is what I think is still the central issue.
Now, I have no issues with suo moto cases. These are taken against grave offences of grave consequences. These are necessary where required.
Also, these become Front-Page headlines and make judiciary look good. In our journalistic language, these are sexy.
However, there are also millions of boring, mundane, frivolous cases of common people at lower courts which keep on pending years after years, some times for decades. Which bring no media attention.
Even a news about disposal of 1,000 cases would go to National Pages (as opposed to Front Page) and may not make it to Front Page or a TV news bulletin.
However, that is precisely what needs to be done.
Organogram of judiciary in Pakistan
According to a 2013 media report, the number of pending cases was over 3 million.
According to a 2015 report available at the Supreme Court website, the pending cases at the end of 2013 was 1.7 million (image, above):
We have heard of the reasons which are causing this delay: inadequate number of judges, vested interest among lawyers for delayed disposal, inefficient evidences collection by police, etc.
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Because the system is in such a mess, a complete transformation requires education of lawyers as well as judges.
Devising a case management plan where it is identified what the core issues are and how long it will take for trial to last for and then sticking to that case plan would ensure timely management of cases.
But something needs to be done. Now.
A 2015 judiciary strengths chart by Faqir Hussain, former Registrar SCP and Director General, Federal Judicial Academy.
Some of the things that needs to be done are:
- Setting up a timeframe for speedy disposal of routine cases for all stakeholders
- Using online case templates, making a the job of counsels and a judge easier and faster
- Using IT technology to both gather case records and delivery of justice
- Going paperless
- Creating and using mobile apps for speedy justice (everyone has a smartphone these days)
- Using qualified volunteers who have left active legal profession or final-year law students as interns in disposal of low-risk, routine cases – on short-term engagement
- Using a filtering process where only the cases of serious nature escalate to courts
I do not know whether we have done this before or not: Litigants education is also necessary. Particularly, in civil cases, people need to be educated not to pursue frivolous cases and drop charges where this is a false pretense.
A firm line by judiciary with awarding costs against litigants who sue without any merits may deter people from initiating false cases.
Widespread alleged corruption among lawyers and lower-court judges is also a matter of finding some solution.
Police corruption at grassroots level is legendary. We do not know how to tackle that. Who enforces the enforcers?
We hope that CJP Justice Anwar Zaheer Jamali would take measures which will ensure speedy justice.
Tailpiece: Public opinion about Pakistan’s judiciary is one of the lowest in South Asia. Against a South Asian median score of 66, confidence in judiciary in Pakistan in a 2014 Pew global survey stood at 47. This is also something that the judiciary needs to work on.
By Wali Zahid, founder, Tehreek-e-Adl (Justice Movement)
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Wali Zahid is a futurist, disruptor, blogger, social media strategist, reformer, LinkedIn writer and author of iBook, Great Training in 10 Steps.
He runs a #Pakistan2050 hashtag on Twitter and appears on national TV on issues of significance to Pakistan. His claim to fame is this recent piece: Wali on The Pakistan 2050 Opportunity
On walizahid.com, he’s writing a series called How We Messed Up Pakistan.
As CEO of SkillCity, he coaches several Fortune-500 CEOs on leadership.
He’s founder of a global movement for humanizing medical education and practice.
He can be reached on Twitter @walizahid