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ISLAMABAD: When Sheikh Abdul Waheed purchased a commercial plot in Lahore in an auction on Nov 11, 1956 he didn’t realize that he would never get possession of the land.

Six decades later, litigation over the plot is stuck in the Supreme Court.

Mr Waheed is one of about two million litigants whose cases are pending at all levels, from the sessions courts, high courts to the SC.

After the restoration of former chief justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, ordinary litigants had hoped that his judicial activism would provide them some relief, but in vain. In the bulk of the cases, the litigants are still witnessing unnecessary adjournments, re-hearing and slow progress.

Generations of litigants suffer amid backlog of cases

As per the latest statistics of the Law and Justice Commission of Pakistan (LJCP), there are 38,539 cases pending with the SC, 293,947 with the five high courts and 1,869,886 cases with the subordinate judiciary of the four provinces and the federal capital.

In most civil and revenue matters, the litigants have to wait decades - sometime the third generation of the petitioners get the final verdict in their cases.

In Mr Waheed’s case, his rivals - the occupants of the land – approached the executing court with the objection that the plot was an evacuee property and could not be sold.

However, the executing court on July 7, 1960 confirmed the sale in favour of the buyer.

On Feb 6, 1966, the matter reached the SC, before it was remanded back to the Lahore High Court (LHC), where it was decided in favour of Mr Waheed.

In 1982, the occupants again filed an appeal before the SC, where the matter was again referred to the Custodian Evacuee Property and the latter held that “the property had ceased to be evacuee property after its restoration. But 2/3rd of the suit property re-acquired the status of evacuee property”.

This decision was challenged before the LHC on June 18, 1986. The LHC on March 26, 2001 dismissed the case while agreeing to the findings of the custodian. Yet, since 2007, the matter has been pending before the SC.

In another case, the second generation of 1,000 allottees of the 267 properties left behind in Rawalpindi by Hindu and Sikh citizens after the 1947 partition is facing litigation.

Asif Bashir Chaudhry told Dawn that his father, the late Chaudhry Bashir, was the original claimant and Mr Chaudhry had been pursuing the case in court for the last 20 years since his death.

According to him, after over four decades of litigation, the LHC decided the matter in their favour, but the Cantonment Board of Rawalpindi challenged the decision and the case has been pending with the SC for the last couple of years.

“Eventually, I will hand over the file of this case to my son and our third generation will be pursuing this,” he said.

In yet another case, the son of Raja Arif (late) is going through another round of litigation over a property dispute. Arif had a property dispute with Haji Usman Ilahi over a commercial plot in Rawalpindi in 1986. After 20 years of litigation, in 2005, the SC decided the matter in Arif’s favor.

Since then, he has been struggling for the execution of the court order. Last month, the LHC Rawalpindi bench accepted his petition, but he has to seek an order from the apex court to acquire his property.

While there is a huge backlog with the judiciary, the incumbent Chief Justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar, while presiding over a recent meeting of the National Judicial Policy Making Committee (NJPMC) asked the high courts to decide a case within three months.

He said that due to a lack of proper legislation, judgments are being issued by the subordinate courts on the basis of their own discretion instead of following the law and guidelines issued by the SC. He said centuries’ old colonial laws needed to be reformed by parliament.

The legal experts, however, think otherwise.

According to them, the huge backlog is self explanatory and it is due to the judiciary.

For example, former Pakistan Bar Council vice chairman Mohammad Ramzan Chaudhry said that in the colonial era it was tradition for judges of supreme and high courts to avail two to three months of summer vacation.

He said that this was because English judges visited their hometowns once a year, a journey that took them 10 to 15 days. In addition, it was hard for them to deal with the harsh summers.

According to him, the judges of the superior courts no longer needed a long summer vacation, especially when there is a huge backlog.

There are 1,869,886 cases pending with the judiciary. Among these cases 38,539 are pending in the SC, 147, 542 in the LHC, 93,335 with the Sindh High Court, 30,764 with the Peshawar High Court, 6,030 in the Balochistan High Court and 16,278 in the Islamabad High Court.

Likewise, the pendency of the district judiciary of Punjab is 1,184,551, Sindh 97,673, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa 204,030, Balochistan 12,826 and Islamabad 37,753.

Senior lawyer Mohammad Akram Sheikh was of the opinion that the superior judiciary was the appellate forum of the district judiciary but it appeared as if the focus of high courts and SC were the petitions related to articles 199 and 184/3 of the Constitution that gives them the power to enforce fundamental rights.

However, other legal professionals feel that the bar also contributes to the backlog of cases.

Former president Tariq Mehmood Jahangiri said that lawyers are equally responsible for the slow progress of court cases.

He said lawyers sought unnecessary and frequent adjournments and bar associations issued strike calls on petty issues which not only delayed court cases but also resulted in the backlog.

Published in Dawn, January 21st, 2018