NA continues to pick apart judiciary’s performance

Published March 31, 2023
Minister of State for Law and Justice Shahadat Awan speaks during the assembly session on Thursday. — Picture via Shahadat Awan/Facebook
Minister of State for Law and Justice Shahadat Awan speaks during the assembly session on Thursday. — Picture via Shahadat Awan/Facebook

• 38 posts of judges lying vacant, state minister says JCP not convened in a long time
• Lawmakers protest withdrawal of power subsidy to textile industry

ISLAMABAD: The performance and working of the judiciary came under scrutiny of the National Assembly for the second consecutive day when the house was informed that over 380,000 cases were pending before the Supreme Court and all the five high courts of the country.

During the alternate private member’s day, the lawmakers also protested over the government’s move to withdraw subsidy on power tariff for the textile industry as per conditions of the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Both the issues came up under discussion during the Question Hour and lawmakers, who had lashed out at the judiciary during the sitting on Monday at the time of the passage of the controversial bill clipping the suo motu power of the chief justice of Pakistan (CJP), once again consumed significant time on discussing reasons for the huge backlog of cases in the country, causing problems to litigants and the masses.

One of the reasons for this heavy backlog, according to Minister of State for Law and Justice Shahadat Awan, is the inaction on the part of the judiciary to fill vacant posts in all courts.

Presenting the data in response to a question asked by a Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) dissident Nuzhat Pathan, the minister told the assembly that a total of 380,436 cases had been pending in the higher courts till Dec 31, 2022, whereas 38 posts of judges were at present lying vacant.

Providing a break-up, the minister told the lower house of the parliament that a total of 51,744 cases had been pending before the SC where three posts of judges had been lying vacant for a long time. Similarly, the data shows that 179,425 cases were pending before the Lahore High Court, where a total of 19 posts of judges are lying vacant against the sanctioned strength of 60.

As many as 85,781 cases were pending before the Sindh High Court which is also facing a shortage of 11 judges.

The number of pending cases before the Peshawar High Court stands at 41,911 whereas Baloch­istan High Court and Islamabad High Court have backlogs of 4,198 and 17,104 cases, respectively.

The five-year data, however, shows that the number of pending cases had come down from the previous year when there were 389,392 cases pending in the courts.

When the members and Speaker Raja Pervaiz Ashraf asked the minister to explain the reason for not appointing judges in the courts, the minister said that his ministry or the federal government had no role in it, stating that judges themselves “control and supervise the judiciary”.

He said it was the responsibility of the judicial commission to recommend names of the judges to the parliamentary committee, but regretted that there had been no meeting of the judicial commission for quite a while.

“It is said that why the parliament is looking at the judiciary. When one institution will not function properly, it is the job of the parliament to look into it,” said Mr Awan in an apparent reference to the criticism on the government for the legislation on the CJP’s powers.

He alleged that instead of looking into the problems of the litigants, the judicial commission had remained busy in focusing on other issues. He also called for merit-based appointment of judges on seniority basis.

The speaker termed the situation “alarming” and referred the matter to the law reforms committee asking it to approach judges to get the vacant posts filled and suggest mechanism to clear the backlog of cases.

Protest over subsidy withdrawal

Earlier, the members in their speeches lamented the government’s decision to withdraw subsidy on power tariff for the textile industry, stating that the move would further damage the industry which was facing hardships due to decline in exports.

Responding to a question by PML-N’s Sheikh Fayyazuddin, parliamentary secretary for energy Rana Iradat Sharif told the house that the government had to withdraw the subsidy on the IMF’s demand, saying that they had done so “under compulsion and unwillingly”.

The NA also passed a bill seeking to set up Pakistan Institute of Research and Registration of Quality Assurance at Gwadar and introduction of six other private member’s bills.

The National Assembly will meet again on Friday at 11am.

Published in Dawn, March 31st, 2023

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