ISLAMABAD: Despite the fact that model courts established for providing speedy justice to people have decided hundreds of criminal cases since their inception on April 1, lawyers’ bodies are calling them “justice rushed, justice crushed” and have also launched nationwide protests against these courts.

Established for “expeditious” trial, 116 model courts have decided 1,769 cases of murder and narcotics in 16 working days. The lawyers’ bodies have, however, termed these figures “cosmetic” and threatened to launch a protest outside the Supreme Court building if the government does not take back its decision on the model courts by April 25.

According to the statistics of the Monitoring and Evaluation Cell of the Expeditious Justice Imitative (EJI), 36 model courts in Punjab, 27 each in Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 24 in Balochistan and two in Islamabad have decided 1,769 cases from April 1 to 18. These included 721 murder and 1,048 narcotics cases.

An official at the monitoring cell told Dawn that the conviction rate in these cases was about 50 per cent. As far as the performance of the Islamabad’s model courts was concerned, the official said, they decided 20 murder and 24 narcotics cases in 16 days.

Established for ‘expeditious’ trial, 116 model courts have decided 1,769 cases in 16 days

These cases were instituted in trial courts over the past five to six years. They were transferred to the model courts after high courts were delegated powers for transferring the cases to the respective sessions judges. Sources in Islamabad’s judicial circles said that most of the cases transferred to the model courts were near completion in the respective trial courts. That was the reason that 20 murder and 24 narcotics cases were decided in just 16 working days, they added.

The lawyers’ bodies are strongly opposing the timeframe set for the model courts.

According to Pakistan Bar Council (PBC) vice chairman Hafiz Mohammad Idris Sheikh, the EJI has asked the model courts to conclude a murder trial in just four days.

The PBC is the apex regulatory body of lawyers.

“Humanly it is not possible for a court to frame charges, examine evidence, record statement and conclude arguments of prosecution and defence counsel in such a short time period,” he said. “These model courts seem to be tougher than military courts,” he said, adding that in most of the cases, judges did not provide proper opportunity to the defence counsel to advance their arguments.

Mr Sheikh said that the legal fraternity was not against the concept of model courts, but this concept should be rationalised. He suggested that instead of granting four days for completing a murder trial, the model courts should be given at least 30 days.

He claimed that the presiding officers of the model courts had selected those cases which were about to complete and announced verdicts just after the transfer of these cases from other courts. “We have already issued a call for complete strike on the issue of model courts on April 25 and we will not allow any lawyer to appear before the Supreme Court on the said date,” he said and warned of disciplinary proceedings against the lawyers who would defy the PBC’s call.

The EJI is a brainchild of incumbent Chief Justice of Pakistan Asif Saeed Khosa. As a senior puisne judge of the Supreme Court, Justice Khosa had spearheaded the establishment of model courts in Punjab in 2017. The idea is to provide for establishment of “model criminal trial courts” and introduction of time-bound criminal trial regime through management and scheduling mechanism.

For the EJI, the apex court appointed District and Sessions Judge Sohail Nasir as Director General of the Monitoring and Evaluation Cell since he has experience of trial proceedings of the model courts.

The “goals and objectives” of the model courts are to improve service delivery of the criminal justice system, reduce the shelf life of criminal cases through efficient trial management, fix time frame for conduct of criminal trials and make trial management a coordinated effort by stakeholders.

Published in Dawn, April 22nd, 2019