Improving access to justice

Updated May 29, 2019

Email

IN a move that marks a first for Pakistan’s judicial system, the Supreme Court on Monday heard four cases through the newly established e-court.

Litigants and their respective lawyers from Karachi ‘appeared’ before an apex court bench via two large LED screens that had been set up in the courtroom.

The maiden electronic proceedings took place apparently without any technological glitch as the voices of both the senior counsel and president of the Supreme Court Bar Association at the Karachi registry were audible.

On the occasion of what was truly a historic moment, Chief Justice Asif Saeed Khosa — the architect of this step — hailed it as a milestone.

“Through the e-court system, we have saved between Rs2m and Rs2.5m in one day alone that otherwise had to be borne by the litigants,” the chief justice said, as he acknowledged a potential remedy to a long-standing problem faced by litigants across the judicial hierarchy.

The electronic court system was first discussed by Justice Khosa during the full-court reference hosted in honour of former chief justice Saqib Nisar earlier this year.

In his speech, Justice Khosa had expressed a commitment to addressing the causes of delays in the disposition of cases at all levels.

“I would also like to build some dams, a dam against undue and unnecessary delays in the judicial determination of cases, a dam against frivolous litigation,” he had said.

This week’s technological advancement should hopefully improve access to justice in the country, especially once the teething problems have been taken care of.

That Pakistan’s judicial system is in dire need of reform is no secret.

High legal costs, unending delays, adjournments, pending cases, never-ending trials — all these factors contribute to the gaps in quick and affordable justice.

Eventually, as a result of these delays and expenses, it is the poor who suffer the most; they are then left to seek relief from informal systems.

The idea behind an innovation of this nature is to reduce inconvenience and diminish delays for all parties.

In the same spirit, the judiciary must continue its efforts to improve both access to and the quality of justice for the average citizen.

The issues of lack of judges, scores of undertrial prisoners in overcrowded jails, insufficient infrastructure such as vans for the transport of prisoners, frequent adjournments, etc must all be addressed.

The judges’ workload, too, should be eased through discouraging frivolous litigation and appeals.

Firming up the judicial process and revamping the criminal justice system would also discourage parallel legal forums such as jirgas and weaken the argument for the existence of military courts.

It is crucial to reform the justice system to empower citizens and earn their trust.

Without it, the authority of the rule of law risks being undermined.

Published in Dawn, May 29th, 2019