Chief Justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar on Thursday deemed the jirga system "against fundamental human rights" and recommended that its scope be limited to civil cases only.
The incumbent chief justice made those remarks while hearing a vani and sawara (marriage of underage girls against their will to settle murder and tribal disputes) case first taken up in 2005 during former chief justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry's tenure.
"The jirga system is against fundamental human rights," Justice Nisar said. "Jirga and panchayat (tribal councils) cannot have the right to vani girls and award capital punishments.
"Some people take their disputes to Jamaatud Dawa, which then imposes heavy fines. This is illegal," the top judge warned.
The chief justice defined the limit of a jirga's legal powers and jurisdiction, saying: "Jirga and panchayat can only settle minor civil disputes. If they are approached in such cases then that's fine. However, jirga rulings on criminal cases intrude on the legal jurisdiction of Pakistani courts."
Justice Nisar asked the advocate generals whether any legislation in this regard had been done at the provincial level.
The chief justice also urged the federal government to take remedial action, "draft a law and send it to parliament.
"Only parliament [then] can pass or reject such a law," he added.
An additional advocate general told the chief justice that "the Sindh High Court has already declared the jirga system as illegal."
At this, Justice Ijazul Ahsan added: "KP and Balochistan have the most number of jirgas."
The National Commission on the Status of Women made its recommendations on the issue, recommending the apex court to not let jirgas and panchayats "assume the jurisdiction of a civil or a criminal court without any lawful authority".
The commission also urged the court to direct the federal govt to make the practice of settling civil and criminal disputes by offering women in marriage "a cognizable offence with at least a minimum punishment of five years".
Moreover, it said that in case an illegal decision is made by a jirga, the offender as well as the members of the jirga "shall be held responsible jointly for the offence".