Chief Justice of Pakistan Asif Saeed Khosa on Saturday said that the "tragic, unbelievable and shocking" attack by a group of lawyers on Punjab Institute of Cardiology (PIC) earlier this week "should not have happened" and is "an opportunity for introspection and self-accountability".
On Wednesday, members of the legal fraternity had staged a violent protest at the PIC reportedly on a mission to avenge some lawyers who had been beaten up at the hospital a few weeks ago.
The incident had resulted in the death of three critically ill patients after doctors fled the wards to escape from the enraged mob that had barged into the hospital, damaged equipment, and broken windows and doors.
"Our hearts and our minds reach out to the victims and their families," said CJP Khosa, during a national conference in Islamabad on expeditious justice.
"We hope and pray all concerned would like to uphold the values attached to the legal profession as well as the medical profession," he said.
Justice Khosa said that he has always believed "divinity, law, and medicine [to be] the noblest of professions". He called on those employed in these professions to make "every effort to keep the nobility of such professions intact".
He expressed hope that "better sense will prevail", not just when it comes to this particular incident and its aftermath, but in the future as well.
The chief justice then said he would refrain from saying more on the subject as the matter is sub judice before the Lahore High Court.
'Will not waste the opportunity to serve people'
The chief justice spoke of the reforms brought over the last eleven months to a justice system fraught with delays.
He said that many bridges were crossed, but one thing was constant: the desire to "do something".
"We will not go down without a fight. Lord Almighty has given us an opportunity to serve our people and we shall not allow this opportunity to go to waste," said Justice Khosa.
He said that even on January 18, during the full court reference for the outgoing chief justice, as he presented his future plans, he had said: "This Baloch blood in me forces me to do something. Something that serves our well being and prosperity."
The chief justice said that the biggest rebuke faced by the judiciary was what seemed like "the death of trial courts" in Pakistan.
"There was no hope left. People were thinking of conceiving a different system altogether.
"But we thought of doing something to make the system work. God says He helps those who help themselves. So we were determined to bring about a change," said Justice Khosa.
He said that while the possibility of law reforms was there — with 15-20 commissions having been formed in the past on changing the law, the procedure and the court structure — all the recommendations were buried in books.
"We said we won't do it. We will look for ways from within the existing systems, laws, and procedures.
"The same judges, the same lawyers, the same laws and the same procedures and no extra expense to give new life to a dead system," he said.
The chief justice said he set out to identify the reasons for a delay in the justice system — especially with respect to criminal trials — and seven to eight factors were identified.
"We give priority to criminal trials because [usually] someone is languishing in jail, having lost his freedom, and someone else who has suffered a loss is awaiting justice. So we thought of how to improve such a system."
Justice Khosa said that a "rollover system" whereby 40-50 cases run alongside "did not seem right".
"Systems that deliver results anywhere in the world have a continuous trial method. They give you a date — even if it is a year-and-a-half later — but when it (the trial) begins it is seen through in the few days and the judge will have no other case. When one case finishes, another begins," he explained.
"So we thought we will bring such a system. So that people only have to wait up to a certain point and after the set date, they are no longer made to wait."
He said the other fundamental flaw identified for which the "holes were plugged" was the way state cases — cases in which the state is the complainant — are held.
"The state is the complainant so the responsibility of presenting the witnesses and evidence lies with the state. For some time now, this responsibility was delegated to the aggrieved party, who was told to bring forth witnesses," he observed.
Justice Khosa said the complainant then went from pillar to post in search of witnesses but most of the time, none cooperated with him. "One comes and his complaint is recorded, then the case is adjourned for a month-and-a-half."
He said in such cases the police and the state must take ownership of such cases and now — after the reforms — it is they who bring the witnesses.
The chief justice said that in implementing the aforementioned changes, a "world of a difference" was seen.
He said other modalities such as delays in challans being submitted, prisons not having the funds to transport prisoners and delays in writing out a judgment, were also attended.
Justice Khosa also spoke of proper scheduling having paved the way for "no more excuses" by senior judges to session judges. He said the senior judges would previously say they are needed in High Court and Supreme Court cases and session court cases would be adjourned as a result.
"Now the lawyers are also genuinely focused on only certain cases on set dates," he added.