ISLAMABAD: The Senate committee of the whole, an arrangement through which the entire upper house is turned into a panel, has recommended the abolition of the intra-court appeal remedy at the high court level.

The committee on Wednesday adopted a report on ‘Provision of Inexpensive and Speedy Justice’. The report will be laid before the upper house on Thursday or Friday.

The draft report was submitted for discussion on Dec 16. Following an open discussion, the committee approved the report before laying it before the upper house.

In addition to its recommendations on the civil justice system, the report also called for amendments to the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC), according to which a police official would be held responsible for reporting false information, and would be punished accordingly.

The report states that a mechanism for the protection of witnesses, prosecutors and judges should be designed, and the evidentiary value of confessional statements in terrorism cases should be enhanced.

With the abolition of the appeal burden on high court judges would reduce

The proposed abolition of the intra-court appeal remedy was the brainchild of legal experts, former senator S. M. Zafar and barrister Aitzaz Ahsan.

They claimed that abolishing the remedy would reduce the burden on high court judges, as well as the time needed for a matter to attain finality.

Under the judicial system an order by a civil judge attains finality when it is decided by the Supreme Court.

The order of a civil judge can be challenged before an additional district and sessions judge (ADSJ), then a district and sessions judge, then before a single member bench of the high court, after which a division bench would hear the same case, and an appeal against the division bench would be filed with the Supreme Court – where the matter would attain finality.

The committee also recommended an increase in the number of Supreme Court judges from 17 to 27.

According to the report, the number of judges has remained stagnant since 1997, and while the population of the country has increased since then (and now exceeds 191 million), the sanctioned strength of Supreme Court judges has remained the same.

A bill to increase the number of Supreme Court judges is attached to the report, which also points out that Article 176 of the Constitution requires that the number of judges of the court will be determined by an act of parliament.

In its bit to overhaul the civil justice system, the report has also suggested that a strict, two month deadline should be fixed for the filing of a reply after the first hearing of a case.

It states that a judge should conduct the preliminary scrutiny of a petition during its first hearing and should “pronounce a judgement within 30 days, failing which strict disciplinary action should be taken against the judge”.

The report observed that the police’s failure to submit a challan in time is a leading cause of delays in the disposal of criminal cases.

It recommends the submission of a challan in 14 days, and states that the submission of a challan after the statutory period should be treated as inefficiency on the part of the station house officer concerned.

The report has also proposed capacity building for investigation officers, prosecutors and judges of anti-terrorism courts, the formation of trained police forensic evidence collection units, and a mechanism for increased coordination between police and military-run intelligence agencies.

Published in Dawn, December 31st, 2015