The Government has accorded priority to streamlining the judiciary, a step long-awaited and presently hailed by the masses. The public reposes confidence in the Government, due to its result-oriented policies saved the country from economic collapse. It is true that the poor have not yet received the benefits of his policies and has promised that the masses will benefit financially in the near future.
Poverty alleviation is the government’s top priority. Fortunately, it has found time to address the core issue of reforming judiciary, which needs a major surgery and blood transfusion to make it operational and more efficient.
Our judicial system, by and large, is based on laws prevalent during the imperialist days but modified to an extent under the Pakistan Penal Code to give them better cosmetic look. The system has failed to deliver, as it should have. For a poor man at the grass-root level a litigant goes in and out of court in the hope of getting quick justice. The common man feels that as compared to a rich and influential person he stands no chance to get a fair deal.
Justice is costly both in terms of lawyer fees and the court fees. Imagine for a claim of rupees one lakh you have to cough out rupees 7,000 as court fee. Can a poor man afford it, including the lawyer fee?
When we talk of revamping-streamlining the system we have to address the areas in which the system is bogged down due to practices that have impeded the flow of justice unhindered. The lawyers’ community may be one party to consult but the major affectees are the litigants whose difficulties need to be assessed if any relief is to be given. The consensus amongst the litigants at present is that they commit a blunder of knocking at the doors of justice. Leave aside the delay in the finalization of their cases perpetual slogging in and out of the courtrooms with no list in sight at the other end of the tunnel makes them dejected and firings along a psychological pressure, which is nerve-wracking. What then are the litigants facing the problems?
The workload on the judges.
On daily basis a judge has to deal with 50 to 55 cases. He has eight duty hours and with lunch and tea break he is left with seven working hours a day. For 50 cases he can accord eight minutes per case if he works persistently. His reader selects 10 to 15 cases for detailed hearing on that day. The litigants left over are given another date which may extend to two months’ period. Now it is routine and seventy percent of the litigants move out of the courtroom dejected perhaps cursing the system. A reasonable number of cases are assigned to the judge so that he deals with the cases fairly. There is no value of the time of a litigant. He reports at 8 am and awaits a call to go in. No one is bothered.
To get a case adjourned is simple. Cough out some money to the reader and you get the adjournment for a period of your choice. Simple as that! Then there is the adjournment sought by the lawyer. This may be on flimsy grounds like the absence of a witness, non-availability of a document. Anything that would impress the judge to give adjournment there should be strict law that must be enforced. A judge must reprimand a habitual lawyer who seeks adjournments. Very rare is a lawyer reprimanded in this aspect.
Faulty investigations by police
The standard of police investigations is well known to everyone. Investigation cells have been created and this responsibility has been segregated from normal police duties. An ASI or a Sub Inspector can hardly read an application in English. Investigation is an art that has to be learnt. The Police believe in third degree methods. These are outdated and the Police blow its trumpet by getting forced confessions. The judges during trial can foresee faulty investigations and per-force they are compelled to let go a criminal due to lack of evidence. There should be an appropriate law to give desecration to the judges to punish if their conscience is satisfied that a concerned person has committed a crime. The police officials must undergo special investigation courses arranged by the Ministry of Interior with Scotland Yard or the FBI. A Close liaison with these set-ups will polish investigation techniques in vogue with our police force. Some of highranking officials of the lever of ASP or SPs are detailed to attend such courses abroad. Fixation of lawyers’ fees.
The existing lawyer fee needs to be evaluated keeping in view the financial state of a common litigant. Some lawyers charge fees beyond the means of a poor man who can ill-afford it. An assessment of fees at the sessions High Court level and its fixation will help the poor financially. Those who can ill-afford to pay fees are deprived of getting justice, which is the basic constitutional right of a citizen.
Legal aid system: Study the legal aid system of UK-Canada-France and the government must adopt one of them with modifications. In the Canadian legal aid system anyone who cannot afford the attorneys’ fee applies to the government for assistance. His financial status is assessed. If he falls within the purview of assistance he is provided a lawyer. The government has a long list of lawyers approved for the purpose and he is at will to select one. Simple as that! There are legal aid societies that exist but are not within the knowledge of a poor man. A system well designed should be formulated and put in place. Professional training of judges.
A judge, when inducted in service, attends a basic course to familiarise him with judicial procedures at 1slamabad – Lahore Academy. Thereafter no specialized training is imparted to him in his subsequent service to upgrade his professional skills. A judge must go through periodical courses to acquaint himself with constantly changing techniques and dictates of law. This needs to be evaluated and attended to with all seriousness. Practically a judge may acquire working experience but a real brush with the law and the procedure require persistent upgrading of knowledge.
Working environments within the courts
The existing courtrooms give a gloomy picture of the environment within and around the court premises. There are no adequate seating arrangements within the room. As a result the litigants squat outside the courtroom sitting on the floor. The women hide in a corner away from the male population. This is below human dignity. There should be seating arrangements within the courtroom. Outside in the verandah, there are no fans – no drinking water. Image a litigant standing outside in scorching heat – no water toilet facility for eight hours. This itself is a punishment and an ordeal, which he undergoes for no fault of his. We call our society a civilized one. No one responsible has ever dared to witness this. Imagine a heart patient or a diabetic standing for eight hours almost at “Attention” position. What if he faints? By the time medical aid is provided to him he could well expire. There are beggars entering the courtroom seeking alms. Then there are a host of sellers of spectacles squatting outside waiting for customers.
Dress of Judges – Magistrates
There appears to be no dress regulation observed by the judges. You can see a judge in Shalwar-Kamiz and a waist coast or in a suit. After all there must be some dress designated to be worn while attending courts. No one bothers. Lack of judicial monitoring system.
The best of the system if not monitored cannot produce results. Unfortunately, there is no monitoring system be it judiciary or executive. We have failed to deliver at the local government and in a judiciary. For any system to be efficiently operational it must be monitored. Feedback is the crux of the issue. Our bureaucrats -politicians are chair-borne at the upper level of the hierarchy. They are satisfied with the OK reports they receive from the subordinates. No one gets out on the field to see and inspect – take corrective measures. An ordinary person has no means to report. The worst is that no one listens. Our print and electronic media have adopted a policy of complacency and fail to highlight discrepancies and sufferings of the masses. The inspection teams at the provincial and federal level are reactivated. The print and electronic media highlight their presence. The common man must know how to report in case of need.
We are fortunate that our Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry taking interest in matters that concern the public. Poverty alleviation – corruption – healths are some areas where he is focusing his efforts. Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry is striving to improve the living conditions of the poor, which is being reflected by his judicial policies. Given the time and consistency, things will improve.