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SC order sought for establishment of new LHC benches

Updated December 12, 2018

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Some elements in bar associations have even resorted to violent protests in these cities, damaging property and locking courtrooms. — File photo
Some elements in bar associations have even resorted to violent protests in these cities, damaging property and locking courtrooms. — File photo

ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court has been requested to consider issuing a directive for the establishment of new benches of the Lahore High Court (LHC) in some more cities of Punjab, including Faisalabad, Gujranwala, Dera Ghazi Khan, Sargodha and Sahiwal.

Against the backdrop of continuing protests by lawyers, the SC has been approached to seek its immediate intervention which could put an end to boycott of courts by lawyers in these cities.

Moved by Raheel Kamran Sheikh, a member of the Pakistan Bar Council (PBC), the petition is likely to be argued by counsel Faisal Siddiqui whenever taken up by the apex court.

Petition asks court to immediately intervene so that boycott of proceedings by lawyers could be ended in some Punjab cities

Different district bar associations have been observing strikes for over a month and members of the legal fraternity have not been appearing in courts of their respective divisions, severely affecting dispensation of justice.

Some elements in bar associations have even resorted to violent protests in these cities, damaging property and locking courtrooms, the petition says. Footages of such ugly violent demonstrations have widely been broadcast and available on social media, the petition argues, adding that now the Punjab Bar Council has joined these protests by announcing a strike and calling upon lawyers of the province to refuse appearing in courts to show their solidarity and support.

At the heart of these protests is the LHC’s full court meeting of July 2016 which had unanimously rejected the demand for the establishment of new benches in these cities.

The petition pleads that as a result of the deadlock, the enforcement of fundamental rights of ordinary citizens is being paralysed. In such a situation, any civilised notion can face the threat of annihilation.

It says that if the SC does not intervene at this juncture, in exercise of powers conferred upon it by Article 184(3) of the Constitution, the loss may become irreparable and irreversible and it may lead to aggravated use of violent means at the hands of the protesting lawyers or law enforcement agencies.

The petition contends that the LHC’s full court meeting was manifestly arbitrary and discriminatory since it was made behind the closed doors and completely lacked transparency as no discussion or reason was advanced.

The LHC, the petition argues, is not only a court of constitutional jurisdiction but a court of original, appellate and revisional jurisdiction, both on criminal and civil sides.

Currently, the high court in Punjab has three benches in Multan, Rawalpindi and Bahawalpur, whereas the provinces of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Sindh — one third and one half the population size of the Punjab, respectively — have equal number of benches. Not only the size of population of Punjab is three times as that of KP and twice as that of Sindh, the total number of cases filed and pending in Punjab are also many times those filed in the two provinces, the petition contends.

Likewise, a comparison of population within Punjab shows that Faisalabad is the second most populous division of the province, whereas populations of Gujranwala, Dera Ghazi Khan and Sargodha divisions are not very different from those of Rawalpindi and Multan divisions. Population of Sahiwal division is comparable to that of Bahawalpur division. There is no constitutionally valid justification or reasonable classification available for discriminating against the people of these cities while refusing to have benches of the LHC there.

For over a decade, the petition says, there has been a persistent demand made by the district bar associations of Faisalabad, Gujranwala, Dera Ghazi Khan, Sargodha and Sahiwal for the establishment of new benches of the high court since for them the access to justice is more expensive, less convenient and manifestly discriminatory, compared to other citizens who are residents of Rawalpindi, Multan and Bahawalpur where permanent benches have been working since 1981.

In order to file cases and attend hearings, litigants and their counsel from these divisions have been burdened with travelling distances, costs of boarding or lodging and transportation, the petition says, adding that in many cases, matters are adjourned on various dates.

Thus the litigants are constrained to engage advocates stationed in Lahore or other divisions where benches have been established, for higher fees that are commensurate with their higher costs of living and practicing.

The petition also highlights the use of available modern technologies like electronic filing of cases, conducting of hearing by using video link, etc, which would save not only the precious time and resources of parties and their counsel (such as transportation, lodging, etc), but also other state resources.

Such a decision will encourage the local counsel who can be engaged for litigation for relatively lesser fees, thereby making the access to justice more affordable and accessible and will promote decentralisation and reducing the burden of migration on urban centres, like Lahore, Rawalpindi and Multan.

Published in Dawn, December 12th, 2018