A court in Pakistan has decided a murder case in five days and awarded the death sentence to a man and life imprisonment to two others. It looks unbelievable in any country, especially in Pakistan, where generations have to wait for a decision of cases lodged by their forefathers. However, it has become possible after the establishment of model courts in all districts of the country.
In a first in Pakistan’s history or perhaps the legal history of the modern world, a model court in Tank, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, decided a murder case in five days. The courts are an initiative of Pakistan Chief Justice Asif Saeed Khosa, which hold trials on a daily basis so that speedy justice could be provided to the public and a huge backlog of cases could be reduced. The courts have been set up under the Article 37 (d) of the Constitution, which requires the state to provide expeditious and inexpensive justice.
A special procedure has been prescribed for the courts to avoid delays. A trial schedule is provided to lawyers and prosecutors so that they can follow it to a tee. In case, a lawyer is unable to appear before the court on the day of the case, they have to inform the court who will replace them, so that the trial is concluded within the stipulated time. To ensure the timely conclusion of cases, model trial courts will not grant any adjournments. The attendance of witnesses is ensured through process servers for which SP-Investigation (police officers) of each district act as a focal person liaising with the process servers. A process server is a person who serves legal documents (summons) to someone involved in a court case. The SP is also responsible for the production of all witnesses, except medical witnesses, and case property (evidence). For the timely production of medical witnesses (those who have serious health complications and cannot appear before the courts), the secretaries of the relevant health departments are approached.
A monitoring and evaluation cell has also been set up to oversee the workings of the model courts. The performance of the courts would be reviewed every two months. Initially, the courts are hearing pending murder and narcotics cases. The model courts decided 89 cases, including 39 of murder and 50 narcotics, throughout the country on their first working day. Chief Justice Asif Saeed Khosa had spelled out his priorities after taking oath as the 26th chief justice of Pakistan on January 18, 2019. “There are 1.9 million pending cases in the country with only 4,000 judges. Even if all judges of the Supreme Court, High Courts and subordinate judiciary work day and night for 36 hours a day, they cannot clear the cases. When we ask the government to increase the number of judges, so that justice can be delivered promptly, they reply to us they are short of funds,” he had remarked.
According to the 2017-18 World Justice Project Rule of Law Index, which measures whether ordinary people can resolve their grievances through the civil justice system, Pakistan’s score is the worst in the region. It is ranked the last in the six regional countries and stands at 105th out of 113 countries in the world. Over 40,000 cases are pending with the Supreme Court, over 300,000 with the five High Courts and about two million with the lower courts of the four provinces and the federal capital, according to the Law and Justice Commission of Pakistan. During the last five years, the number of cases pending with the Supreme Court has doubled and reached the highest level for the last 15 years. In 2006, the number of pending cases before it was 13,724. Today, it is thrice of it. Compared to other countries, the court procedures in Pakistan are complicated, lengthy and expensive. On average, it takes 1,071 days to settle a commercial dispute in court. Then the case can go to the appeal stage first in a High Court and then in the Supreme Court. It is not unusual for a case to take more than a dozen years to be decided, says the World Bank report. Only one judge is available for 62,000 people in the Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. In the Lahore High Court, only one judge is available for 2.2 million people. In the Punjab, a single judge has a case load of more than 660.
Despite the grim situation of justice in Pakistan, lawyers are not happy with the new initiative. They have reservations about the new method of registering FIRs and concluding a trial in four days. In a recent convention at the Lahore High Court, they rejected a decision under which the powers of sessions courts to hear writ petitions under Sections 22-A and 22-B of the Code of Criminal Procedure (registration of FIR) have been abolished. Under the new policy, the police have been empowered to decide applications for registration of FIRs, instead of approaching courts first, to reduce the burden on courts.
In another landmark verdict, Chief Justice Asif Saeed Khosa warned of strict action against those found guilty of false testimony in court cases. Hearing a case, he said the court was starting a “journey towards the truth” “If any part of a testimony is found to be false, the whole of it will be disregarded. People who lie in testimonies have ruined the judicial system,” he remarked. He will serve as top judge for only 337 days and is scheduled to retire on Dec 21, 2019. However, he has already made a significant contribution to the judicial system through his innovative ideas. Every new idea faces resistance initially and his new initiatives are no exception. It is hoped lawyers will stop resisting them after they become popular among the public. Experts say he has taken practical measures to fix Pakistan’s broken justice system. It is believed his initiatives will prove to be the CPEC of Pakistan’s judicial history.