Iftikhar Chaudhry
Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry. — FilePhoto by Online

ISLAMABAD, May 19: Taking a serious note of the practice of giving women and little girls in marriage as ‘Badal-i-Sulha’ (exchange of womenfolk to settle disputes) through the jirga system, the Law and Justice Commission of Pakistan (LJCP) recommended on Saturday stern punishments to discourage the custom.

A meeting of the LJCP, presided over by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry at the Supreme Court building, suggested amendments to relevant laws to award rigorous punishment to those who abet, instigate, demand or receive a female in marriage as Badal-i-Sulha. The punishment can be extended to 14 years, but must not be less than 10 years, along with a fine.

The Supreme Court is already seized with identical petitions filed by the National Commission on the Status of Women (NCSW) and Samar Minallah, an anthropologist, requesting it to declare the jirga system inhuman and against fundamental rights.

Speaking on the occasion, the chief justice said the existing procedural laws were decades-old and, therefore, unable to keep pace with emerging realities and needed reforms.

“Rapid technological developments and socio-political changes in the region have confronted our judicial system with new challenges and increased the need for modernisation and simplification of laws to ensure inexpensive and speedy justice as enshrined in the Constitution,” he said, adding that administration of justice was the duty of the state which should be exercised through the judicial system.

“A strong judicial system ensures rights of people and constitutionalism,” the chief justice observed.

Investigation standard

The meeting was of the opinion that the deteriorating standard of investigation into criminal cases was adversely affecting the criminal justice system. The LJCP recommended amendments to the Pakistan Penal Code to punish delinquent investigating officers.

The commission expressed dissatisfaction over the way investigations were being carried out, leaving legal flaws deliberately to benefit criminals. “This practice is not only bringing a bad name to the government but also shakes the confidence of general public in the formal justice system,” it observed.

The commission considered a proposal to protect Christian spouses from the agony of pursuing family disputes before already overburdened civil courts under the Divorce Act of 1869. An amendment was suggested to the Family Court Act of 1964 to enable family courts to take up cases.

To ensure proper maintenance and welfare of minors whose custody has been given to guardians under the Guardian and Ward Act, the Law and Justice Commission recommended changes in rules to compel a guardian to produce the ward (whether boy or girl) before the court every quarter to make it aware of the condition wherein the child is brought up.

The commission proposed amendments to section 89(A) of the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908, to provide procedure for resolution of disputes through alternative disputes resolution methods.

The meeting was attended by the chief justices of Federal Shariat Court and all five high courts, Law Secretary Yasmin Abbasey and senior advocates Abid Hassan Minto and Syed Iqbal Haider.