SOON after his appointment as chief justice of Peshawar High Court in Nov 2011, Justice Dost Mohammad Khan told media persons that there were several things on his priority list. One of the important issues which he highlighted is his intention to introduce mobile courts for resolving petty nature criminal and civil disputes which would help in providing justice to people at their doorsteps.
The concept of mobile courts was introduced in neighbouring India many years ago and several regions these courts have been functioning successfully. Similarly, mobile courts were introduced in Bangladesh and were empowered to deal with different minor offences.
Although, the PHC chief justice spoke out his mind for the setting up of these courts but so far the idea could not be translated into practice. Early in January the chief justice told reporters that they had formulated drafts of two laws for setting up of civil and criminal mobile courts.
Officials informed that around three months ago these drafts were sent to the provincial law department for proper legislation but so far the government has been dragging its feet on enacting the proposed laws. Apparently, the government is least interested in introducing these laws for early setting up of the mobile courts.The high court is also reportedly in contact with different donor agencies some of which are eager to provide grants for setting up these courts.
The two proposed laws include: Criminal Mobile Courts Act, 2012, and Civil Mobile Courts Act, 2012. Both the draft laws provide that these laws would be extended to such areas of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa as the government in consultation with the high court’s chief justice notifies from time to time.
The draft suggests that the government in consultation with the high court may establish one or more courts in each district or at any such other place or places as it may deem necessary. Such courts will hold sittings at town/union councils/police stations or other places specified by the high court on rotation basis as may be directed by the district judge.
The two draft laws also provides for Alternate Dispute Resolution (ADR) stating that subject to law, the court may resort to any mode of ADR as deemed fit in the circumstances of the case. The court shall be assisted one or two advocates and elders of locality having professional skills of resolution of disputes through ADR.
The draft of the two intended laws provide that appeal against order of the mobile court shall lie to the court of district judge within 15 days of the passing of decree or final order by the court.
In the draft of the criminal mobile courts it is provided that the court shall have exclusive jurisdiction to try cases and offences specified in the schedule of the proposed law. The schedule includes around 31 laws and offences in which these courts will be having jurisdiction.
Prominent offences and laws provided in the schedule are: The consumers Protections Act, 1997; The West Pakistan Motor Vehicles Ordinance 1965; The Pakistan Environmental protection Act 1997 to the extent of offences falling within in the jurisdiction of environmental magistrate; Pure Food Ordinance; The Sugar Distribution Order 1960; The Wheat Movement (Control) Order 1978; The Illegal Dispossession Act 2005; The Prevention of Gambling Act 1977; Protection of Non-smokers health Ordinance 2002; Canal and Drainage Act; and the Local Government Ordinance 2001.
Similarly, the suits and claims included in the schedule of the proposed law related to civil mobile courts are: Claim for custody of minors and guardianship of a person; suit for dowry and dower not exceeding amount of Rs500,000 and maintenance not exceeding Rs2,000 per head per month; suit for damages and compensation related to traffic accidents; dispute under canal and drainage laws; suit for redemption of mortgage property; suit to restrain waste and remove nuisance; suit for damage by cattle trespass; suit for recovery of money due on contract in writing, receipt or any other documents etc.
Legal experts believe that these courts would be helpful especially in such areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa where regular courts are situated in district and tehsil headquarters far away from villages and hamlets. In such areas even for petty nature cases people have to visit the district and tehsil headquarters for attending court proceedings.