According to the governments Law and Justice Commission of Pakistan (LJCP), more than 1.1 million cases are pending with countrys lower courts. — File Photo
ISLAMABAD Imtiaz Ahmed has been waiting 15 years for justice, but Pakistan's inefficient legal system with a staggering backlog of more than 1 million cases has caused him to lose hope.

 

Ahmed's uncle filed a case in 1995 accusing Ahmed's father, Mushtaq Ahmed, of trying to kill him in a row over an ancestral property. Ahmed's father spent three years in jail and was finally released on bail, 12 years ago.

 

Ahmed says his ageing father is innocent and has been appearing in court on his behalf all this time. His family has vigorously pursued the case, but now Ahmed says he is looking for an out-of-court settlement.

 

“My grandfather died while following this case. Most of my savings have been spent on this case, but at the end, I got nothing,” Ahmed said, while standing outside a city courtroom in Islamabad.

 

Ahmed is among many Pakistanis who are frustrated over the slow pace of the legal system and even complain that sometimes court cases complicate issues rather than resolving them.

 

According to the governments Law and Justice Commission of Pakistan (LJCP), more than 1.1 million cases are pending with countrys lower courts as of May 2010 while 150,000 cases await the attention of four provincial high courts. The Supreme Courts backlog of cases is about 17,500.

 

The slow justice system adds to the worries of President Asif Ali Zardari's government, which is already struggling to tackle militancy, high inflation, growing unemployment and chronic power shortages.

 

More worryingly, inefficient courts provide ammunition to militants who have been trying to topple the pro-U.S. civilian government in nuclear-armed Pakistan.

 

People's frustration with the glacially slow legal system was one of the reasons given by militants to set up their courts in the northwestern Swat Valley, where they would decide disputes within days.

 

The government last year launched a major operation in Swat to dislodge militants who were expanding their influence in other parts of the conservative region bordering Afghanistan.

 

“We need to bring judicial reforms. We have made the process speedy because extremist forces want despondency in society, which helps them flourish,” said Farzana Bari, director of the Gender Studies Department in Quaid-e-Azam University.

 

“ILL-CONCEIVED JUDICIAL POLICY”

Unchecked corruption and the rise in frivolous filing in lower courts delay the disposal of cases, legal experts say.

“This is not a secret that we have judges in lower courts who work through their agents. You pay them and get a judgment of your choice,” Azhar Siddiqui, a lawyer in the Lahore High Court, said.

 

Siddiqui accused fellow lawyers of dragging cases out for monetary gains. “Money matters here a lot. If you want your case to be scheduled quickly, you bribe judicial staff and lawyers' assistants,” said a disgruntled Manzoor Hussain, 61, who has sold his house to meet the costs of a property case in Multan city.

 

Another problem is a shortage of qualified judges, adding to the backlog of cases, according to judicial officers and lawyers.

 

It can take a year a more for a senior lawyer to ascend to the Pakistan bench after passing tests and receiving intensive training. It's a slow process often made slower by provincial bureaucracy and corruption.

 

But one proposed solution may make the problem worse. In an effort to comply with the National Judiciary Policy of 2009, which calls for the settlement of most civil and criminal cases within four months to a year, the LJCP has called for the vacant posts in the lower courts to be filled immediately by working lawyers who would get, in essence, on-the-job training.

 

But senior lawyer Tariq Hassan feared the country's judicial system could suffer even more from what he called an “ill-conceived” policy of expediting the disposal of cases. If speed is the only criteria, incompetence and corruption could flourish.

 

“I am more interested in finding out the aspect how they (the cases) are disposed of. If I am a dishonest judge, I can do it all in 10 days, so this is very dangerous,” he said.

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