PESHAWAR: Declaring the Transparency International Pakistan’s National Corruption Perception Survey (NCPS) 2023 report key findings related to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa judiciary not credible, Peshawar High Court has ruled that it is suffering from ethical and methodological rigour.

“These unreliable and invalid findings tend to bring the judiciary into disrepute as well as fuelling ridicule of judiciary on public forums and media, especially social media,” rules a single-member bench comprising PHC Chief Justice Mohammad Ibrahim Khan.

In its 31-page detailed judgment released on Saturday, the bench observed: “This is very concerning that TIP admitted before the court in its response of 15 January 2024 that 87% respondents have perceived judiciary nationally as ‘clean’ and merely l3 % perceive it as ‘corrupt’ but this key information was not included in NCPS 2023 report.”

“Similarly, TIP admitted that in KP, 85% respondents perceived judiciary clean whereas only l5% perceived it corrupt but this key explanation was not included in NCPS 2023,” the bench observed.

Court declares positive findings about judiciary not mentioned in report

“TIP also claimed in relation to KP judiciary that compared to NCPS 2022, the perception of the judiciary in KP has improved 57%. This is the highest improvement witnessed by any department across Pakistan as per NCPS 2023. This finding, like the 87% and 85% clean claims, was not included in NCPS 2023,” the court observed, adding that this would have been encouraging for the nation and taxpayers of Pakistan to know the 87% and 85% clean findings regarding their judiciary.

“These claims would have also boosted the morale and confidence of those working in judiciary,” the bench observed, adding that TIP had only reported negative findings regarding the judiciary.

Similarly, the bench observed that TIP did not mention that only five of the 39 respondents claimed to have paid bribe to access judiciary in KP.

It is pertinent to mention that on Dec 14, 2023, the PHC director of human rights cell had submitted a complaint to chief justice along with press clippings of newspapers wherein the key findings of TIP’s NCPS were reported.

The key findings in relation to KP judiciary was that it was the second most corrupt sector and that citizens paid the highest bribe of Rs162,000 to access judiciary. The PHC chief justice started proceedings over the said complaint and issued notice to TIP, which was represented by advocates Hashmat Ali Habib, Nadia Huma Hashmat and others.

The bench also appointed Prof Niaz A Shah of University of Hull, as amicus curiae, who appeared through video link and submitted his detailed findings on the report.

On April 8, the bench pronounced its judgment wherein it ordered TIP to recall its NCPS 2023 report and issue a revised report in the light of the judgment. It was further ordered that the revised report should be published and circulated in the manner and form of NCPS 2023.

In the detailed judgment, the bench observed that TIP failed to mention the inherent limitation of the perception survey in its report. The bench observed that in its response, TIP admitted that ‘this perception does not necessarily mean reality but is shaped by the citizens’ opinions and experiences. “It does not mean that the department, sector, or institution is corrupt or has financial irregularity.”

However, the bench observed that TIP did not explain in its two responses to the court as to why it failed to mention the inherent limitation in its NCPS 2023. It added that without explaining the limitation, key finding in relation to key question may mislead lay public which, in turn, contributed to public misperception about the judiciary. “Misperceptions lead to erosion of public trust and confidence in the judiciary and, in some cases, fuel public ridicule and scorn.”

The bench observed: “TIP’s intention and aim of improving institutions across the country is laudable. TIP has, however, done itself and the institutions it wants to assist and improve a huge disfavour by not following ethical and methodological rigour; properly analysing data and reporting full findings in NCPS 2023.”

The bench further stated: “The Constitution of Pakistan and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) protect the right to freedom of expression not only of individuals, journalists, etc but also afford protection to non-governmental organisations (NGOs) as they raise awareness through their functions on issues of public importance. The contribution of NGOs on issues of public importance is undeniable.”

“Their rights and role, however, come with great responsibilities and duties to those who they engage in their activities such as surveys, the institutions they aim to research and broadly the public. Article 19(3) of ICCPR has specially mentioned that the exercise of this right ‘carries with it special duties and responsibilities’. NGOs, like other organisations and institutions have to operate within the limits imposed by law especially human rights law and the fundamental rights contained in the constitution of Pakistan,” the bench observed.

“In this case, it is the right of public and the institution funded by their taxes to question the validity, reliability and credibility of research findings by NGOs so that the judiciary is not unfairly ridiculed and brought into disrepute. Maintaining public trust and confidence in the judiciary is the sine qua non for the fair administration of justice in a democratic society. Access to justice and fair administration of justice is a fundamental right of people,” the bench maintained.

Published in Dawn, April 14th, 2024

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