ISLAMABAD: The poor reports coming from the country depress the top functionaries of the judiciary, yet on Wednesday Chief Justice Asif Saeed Khosa hit a note of optimism with the declaration that model courts would be established for the prompt dispensation of criminal cases.
Addressing 57 new additional judges of the Model Criminal Trial Courts of Pakistan (MCTCs), in addition to the earlier 116 judges, at the Federal Judicial Academy, the chief justice observed that “we are told that the economic conditions of the country are in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) while at some time we heard that it has come out of the ICU, besides the noise coming from parliament. […]. [This] does not reflect a good sign for democracy. […] Even at the cricketing level, unfortunately the news is depressing […].”
Our Constitution obliges us to provide inexpensive and expeditious justice, but this is a gigantic task that has drifted, he said, adding that through the model courts, 5,800 cases were decided in the initial 48 days, given the dedication of judges and cooperation with the legal fraternity, police as well as jail authorities. Offering a road map, he assured the audience that one judge each will be added to one district every month for a few months, and said that no murder- or narcotics-related cases are pending in 16 districts of the country.
Says task of overhauling the system has drifted over the years
Citing the Chinese aphorism that the longest journey starts with the first step, CJP Khosa observed that the task has been undertaken and will be accomplished: the upcoming June 24 meeting of the Law and Justice Commission of Pakistan will go further towards establishing model courts for civil cases, family matters, rent matters and magistrate model courts while gender-based violence courts and child courts will be established in all the 116 districts of the country. Such courts are common in other parts of the world, he observed, while regretting that women and children are not accorded fair treatment in the regular courts since cases of discrimination are often hushed up, or the general atmosphere of the courtroom is discouraging, while cross-examination in such cases embarrasses women. Therefore, dedicated judges will soon be trained to exclusively hear gender-discrimination cases or child abuse cases.
Referring to the experience of e-Courts in Courtroom No. 1 of the Supreme Court, the chief justice observed that “we decided a number of cases without any adjournment for a full one week, with litigants and lawyers sitting in Karachi. This experience will soon be replicated with Balochistan but some technical glitches and security issues are creating impediments that will be overcome soon.”
The chief justice announced the opening of a ‘state-of-the-art’ research centre in the SC through the introduction of world-class search engines, and that one such example has already been installed. Additionally, three SC judges and seven officers will soon visit the US to be trained in this regard, to the benefit of the high courts and sessions courts. Similarly, said Chief Justice Khosa, an AI system has been set up in the apex court, which will help judges, including the lower judiciary, make queries before adjudicating.
At the level of the high courts, the chief justice explained, special benches have been created to decide appeals on the judgements coming from model courts. This, he said, will help in early decisions on criminal cases. Moreover, high courts will also set up dedicated courts to decide exclusively upon cases relating to revenue, banking or tax matters.
Chief Justice Khosa presented the assurance that after a few weeks, the SC will have a zero pendency of criminal cases, explaining that he was focusing on the criminal justice system because in civil cases, the litigant lives with his family but those facing criminal charges languish in jail, to the detriment of their families’ welfare. When women must seek odd jobs, given that they have no other source of income, and there’s no one to arrange for the education of the children, paths of crime and of keeping bad company are taken.
Meanwhile, vice chairman of the Pakistan Bar Council (PBC), Syed Amjad Shah, stated that the PBC had noticed that ‘one-sided figures’ were being made public regarding the functioning of the model courts: the bar council will comment upon the failure or success of model courts once it sees the figures that it has sought regarding the institution of cases in the relevant period, the number of disposal of cases by other courts, the stage at which the cases were transferred to the model courts, and the comparison figures with earlier years. The sustainability of model courts, he said, will remain in serious doubt unless their functioning is evaluated against evidence, adding that he has written to the chief justice in this regard.
Published in Dawn, June 20th, 2019