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KARACHI: Everyone sat in a small room, quietly and disciplined, as they attentively listened to the judge sitting on a traditional wooden chair with tall back inscribed with the judiciary’s logo on a raised platform.

In front are four wooden benches — each for hardly five persons to sit — with the front row reserved only for lawyer.

“This place is like a darba [coop],” says a lawyer, who is pleading cases in the City Courts. “There is one small raised platform for the judge to sit and two benches; one reserved for the lawyers and the second for the litigants to sit,” he added. “There is not even the witness box,” he adds in frustration.

This is not an isolated case. There are around 200 such new courtrooms in four districts — East, West, South and Central — in the largest and oldest judicial complex in the metropolis located on M.A. Jinnah Road.

City’s largest judicial complex suffers from lack of space & basic facilities

These new courtrooms were set up three years ago on the directives of the Sindh High Court to accommodate judicial officers, who had been appointed to ensure speedy justice and quick disposal of pending cases, which ran in thousands at the time.

In Karachi, there was no extra space to establish new courts on the premises of the already overcrowded British-era building of the City Courts judicial complex.

“In order to make sure that the newly-appointed judges started work as soon as possible, the existing courtrooms were divided into three halls to create more courts. Some [were] even divided into four,” Advocate Munir Din told Dawn.

No witness box in courtrooms

During a visit, it was observed that some courts were set up in such small rooms that could hardly accommodate a few people.

“Maximum 10 people, including lawyers, officials and litigants can hardly sit in one courtroom at a time,” said another lawyer.

“Therefore, several others have to wait outside in the corridors for hours, where the number of benches is not sufficient,” said another lawyer.

Many complained that the existing environment was not conducive both for judges and lawyers to carry out their work.

“Since wooden partition walls have been erected, one can hear the proceedings being conducted in other court,” said Advocate Din, who pleads cases in the district courts. “Even there is no witness box, which is a must for a trial court,” he added.

Lawyers and judicial officials told Dawn that on average around 50-60 cases were fixed for hearing before each court while judicial magistrates and senior civil judges had to hear even more cases.

The judicial complex houses around 200 courts of the judicial magistrates/civil judges, judicial magistrate/senior civil judges, additional district and sessions judges, district and sessions judges and family courts.

Judicial sources and lawyers said these courtrooms were created on a temporary basis until proper accommodation was prepared, but ever since nothing had been done.

Karachi Bar Association’s president Naeem Qureshi told Dawn that 80 new courtrooms had been set up in the judicial complex in the past years to address the issue of overcrowding as well as to ensure quick disposal of cases.

A new complex had also been constructed with 25 new courtrooms, he said, adding that 50 more new courtrooms would be built in order to provide proper space to judges.

“New blocks are being constructed in the South and West districts to address this problem,” he added.

10 public toilets for around 20,000 visitors

The judicial complex has an estimated turnout of around 15,000 to 20,000 visitors on a daily basis. There is an acute shortage of basic facilities such drinking water, public toilets, sitting arrangements and shelters for the visitors.

There were hardly 10 public toilets while a few water dispensers were installed for the public.

Above all, there were no proper sitting arrangements in each of the four districts, where some sofas had been placed that had become worn out.

In 2013, the Sindh government had agreed in principal to relocate the district courts from City Courts to the Karachi central prison, which had to be shifted outside the city.

However, sources said the legal fraternity was the main hurdle in addressing the problem of overcrowding and other problems in the City Courts since they had been opposing relocation of the subordinate courts to any other place in the metropolis.

They said that the lawyers argued that it was convenient for them to plead cases in the courts of four districts at one place and that too in the middle of the city.

Published in Dawn, February 26th, 2019