PESHAWAR: Sweat poured down Judge Fazal Wadood’s back as he sat perched behind a desk inside the custom-built green bus court.
The latest weapon in Pakistan’s battle against a creaking judicial system, the $98,000 mobile court allows Judge Wadood to preside over cases and disputes that have dragged on for years because of the slow grinding process involved in regular courts.
The situation has helped build frustration among the people and increased calls for Islamic sharia law at the government’s expense.
The bus has been set up by the high court in the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) province.
Boasting a portrait of Pakistan's founding father Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the bus is designed to go directly to the people, resolving their daily disputes in some of the most remote and dangerous parts of the country.
Part of a $15 million project, with 25 per cent financed by the government in northwest of Pakistan and the rest by international donors, the mobile court aims to strengthen both the present judicial system and state institutions.
Musarat Shah, a 72-year-old widower locked in a five-year land dispute, was one of the first on board the bus, which has the white crescent and star of the Pakistani flag emblazoned on its side.
“Justice delayed is justice denied,” said Shah, furious with the slow pace of the regular court system. “Multiple commissions were held. One commission finished and demanded another commission, and it was taking us nowhere.”
After hearing her case, Judge Wadood summoned a group of mediators who agreed to go off and inspect her land, before setting another hearing in a week's time.
Marc-Andre Franche, the head of UNDP in Pakistan, stated that the mobile court, which is an attempt at strengthening the judicial system, was one of the main ways to counter the influence of non-state actors.
Eight judges and 18 lawyers have been trained in conflict resolution to find quick solutions in simple cases that risk dragging on for years, clogging up the judicial system.
On its first one day, with the bus stationary in a car park in the Hayatabad suburb of Peshawar, Wadood together with a registrar and stenographer tapping away on a laptop, handled nearly 30 cases.
Chairman of the arbitration council, Mohammad Osman Khan, says the work consists of speedy mediation between parties in different conflicts normally faced in daily life, such as property battles, family problems and others.
However, the mobile court faces certain challenges in its path to success, which will help authorities determine whether it is worth rolling out further courtroom buses.
One of the major challenges is the inbred jirga system, which consists of traditional gatherings of tribal elders who typically mediate similar disputes at a local level.
Judgments passed at such gatherings by the elders are considered law in the tribal area.
Human rights organisations criticise their decisions as arbitrary.
The director of the judicial academy in Peshawar, Hayat Ali Shah, believes that the two systems can coexist.
“A civil litigation in KPK comes to the court only when the jirga and others fail. So hopefully there will be no competition,” Shah said.
He was hopeful the mobile initiative would be effective.
Although, it remains unclear how many villagers will opt for the mobile court rather than the traditional jirga system.
Security is another challenge that is being faced at present by the mobile court. So far, its work is limited to Peshawar’s suburbs. It is followed by an armed police escort.
The authorities are trying to agree on extra security precautions for when the bus travels to more dangerous parts of the northwest, away from the heavily protected city of Peshawar.
But Judge Wadood is not afraid of death. He feels providing justice to the common man is more important than worrying about safety.
“Such problems are everywhere,” he said, with regards to situations in different cities. “We don’t fear working here or there.”