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In need of repair

September 18, 2018

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IN his inaugural address to the nation, Prime Minister Imran Khan commendably stressed upon reforming the country’s laggardly judicial sector. One of the proposals is to compel judges to dispose of cases within one year by law, but this has already been tried many times before, with little success.

One mode of enhancing judicial efficiency (that has been ignored) entails conceptualising the administration of justice as a form of service delivery, where ordinary citizens interface with state machinery for the redressal of their grievances. For the most part, our court premises are in an abysmal condition. Seating arrangements for litigants leave a lot to be desired. Clean drinking water is not available, and the restrooms are in bad shape. Coupled with the state’s inability to provide other basic facilities and amenities to the litigants, all this feeds into a mistrust of our judicial system, and encourages vigilantism.

The district and sessions judge is currently burdened not only with a heavy docket of cases, writing judgements, preparing annual confidential reports of subordinate judges, presiding over and attending numerous administrative committees and submitting routine reports before the high court — but also with such petty matters as signing papers for procuring stationery and furniture for the courtroom, approving a lease for a cycle-stand, making requests for repairs to the provincial communication & works department after every monsoon, etc. In other words, every district and sessions judge has a plethora of management tasks which clouds his/her ability to perform judicial tasks in an able and timely manner.

To escape this bind, the operation and management (O&M) of court premises in every district should be outsourced to professional third parties from the private sector by entering into a framework contract. Contracts of such nature — known in the legal industry as management/O&M — are familiar to any commercial lawyer. At the end of each year, the performance of these third parties may be evaluated on the basis of agreed-upon targets and their remuneration adjusted accordingly. By aligning remuneration with performance, third parties will be sufficiently incentivised to improve service delivery. Unburdening the judges of their current managerial responsibilities will also leave them valuable time to focus on their judicial functions and thus boost the overall efficiency of our judicial system.

The state of our judicial infrastructure has provoked tensions.

The separation of management and judicial functions envisioned in third-party professional management agreements will address another critical concern, which is the maintenance of relatively new judicial complexes. A lot of money has been poured into the construction of new court premises in recent years in Lahore, Islamabad and Rawalpindi. However, due to poor management and oversight, they have all fallen into decrepitude to the point where it is difficult to differentiate the old from the new.

The abject state of our judicial infrastructure has also provoked tensions between the bar and the bench. For instance, the unrest sparked in the Multan High Court Bar last year that led to a stand-off with the then chief justice of the Lahore High Court was primarily linked to the poor maintenance of the judicial complex constructed outside the city.

If this proposal is implemented, it will strengthen the administration of justice in Pakistan by improving delivery of judicial services and enhancing overall judicial efficiency, which will restore trust in our judicial system, besides de­­congesting court dockets. Given the urgency of the matter, it should be possible for the prime minister to implement this in a matter of three to six months in the provinces where the PTI has formed a gover­nment.

Such steps will notably be in line with the mandate of Article 203 of the Constitution which has largely been read narrowly: the words ‘control’ and ‘supervision’ are restricted to the selection and appointment of subordinate judges and the determination of their terms and conditions; the creation of disciplinary committees; supervision of recruitment of the staff of subordinate courts; and other matters. The word ‘superintendence’ in Article 203 has the required flexibility to encompass the utilisation of framework contracts through which the operation and management of judicial premises, including their infrastructural paraphernalia, may be outsourced.

The purpose of focusing on ‘judicial logistics’ and outsourcing managerial and operational functions to third parties is to infuse efficiency in the management of judicial premises and give some added space to judicial officers, so that they can spend more time on performing their core judicial and administrative functions. Ultimately, a more expeditious and efficient delivery of justice will advance and entrench the rule of law in the country.

The writer is an ex-caretaker federal law minister.

ahmersoofi@hotmail.com

Published in Dawn, September 18th, 2018