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Judicial reform

Published Nov 05, 2015 02:43am
The real test of parliamentary resolve is steady and methodical work towards a set of reforms.—INP/File
The real test of parliamentary resolve is steady and methodical work towards a set of reforms.—INP/File

INVITING the Chief Justice of Pakistan to address a special committee of the Senate tasked with drafting reforms for speedy justice in the country was a welcome move that was always likely to generate goodwill between two of the three pillars of the state.

Chief Justice Anwar Zaheer Jamali also obliged by being candid about the shortcomings of the judiciary itself while being clear about the judicial domain needing to be respected by other institutions. Few would disagree that there is a crisis of justice in Pakistan.

Too few have access to courts and where there is access, the quality of justice provided is often unacceptable.

Also read: Laws worthless in absence of enforcement: CJ

The lack of formal justice at the grass-roots level has led to the continuation of a parallel, informal system of justice — with panchayats and jirgas handling as much as 80pc of disputes, according to the chief justice. That twofold crisis — too few are opting for the formal system and the few who do opt for it are served very poor quality of justice — is the one that affects the vast majority of the people.

Resolving that crisis though would require a fundamental shift in attitudes — and a raft of reforms worked out in cooperation with the judiciary. However, on neither front is there much urgency or seriousness of purpose.

Consider that while Chairman of the Senate Raza Rabbani has made it a priority to reach out to the judiciary and to foster dialogue between institutions, parliament itself has no real legislative agenda. That is primarily the fault of the federal government, with the PML-N having a majority in the National Assembly. But it is also the listlessness of the opposition parties that is part of the problem.

In the Senate, Mr Rabbani’s enthusiasm aside, there are few senators from any of the major parties who are pressing for legal reforms — applauding a speech by a chief justice does not constitute meaningful input.

The real test of parliamentary resolve is steady and methodical work towards a set of reforms — something akin to the 18th Amendment process shepherded by Mr Rabbani, though in a more transparent manner.

The other aspect is the substance of the reforms themselves — while most agree that the judicial system is broken, the speeches by Mr Rabbani and Chief Justice Jamali on Tuesday indicated a significant gap between the two institutions of what the reforms should be.

For example, the introduction of a scheduling order for trials, as suggested by Mr Rabbani, could curb delays and keep trials streamlined and on track, but the chief justice appeared uncomfortable with the idea and ascribed blame for delays to other issues.

Ultimately, parliament must legislate and the judiciary must implement — but if it happens in a manner where one or the other institution is resistant to the fundamentals of the proposed changes, the attempted reforms could prove counterproductive.

Published in Dawn, November 5th, 2015

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