Today's News International included a noteworthy article concerning the failure of Pakistan's ruling party -- the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) -- to follow through on a major plank of its 2013 manifesto: improvement of the administration of justice in the regular civilian courts. Because the ineffectiveness of the civilian courts was a (the?) key part of the rationale for enacting the 21st Amendment to the Constitution and the implementing legislation that together permit a new generation of military courts with power to try civilians, the party's failure to take any steps to upgrade the regular courts gives rise to a question as to whether creation of these military courts was in fact the only possible course of action. The article reports:
The PML-N government in its election manifesto, which was announced before the May 2013 elections, had promised a set of administrative and judicial reforms in the criminal justice system but nothing has been done as yet.
The party manifesto had pledged, “Conscious of the mental and physical suffering of litigants whose cases linger over generations without final decision and firmly believing in the principle that ‘justice delayed is justice denied’, the PML-N government will take all necessary measures to ensure the dispensation of speedy and inexpensive justice for the common man.”
Although the PML-N manifesto said, “This is not mere rhetoric”, the last 22 months of the PML-N tenure proves that this pledge in the manifesto was merely rhetoric.
Interestingly, the manifesto had promised, “The PML-N will initiate action in this regard immediately on coming into power so that benefits thereof accrue to the people as soon as possible.” Practically, however, it has not been done.
The PML-N manifesto envisaged a two-pronged strategy: (1) reduce the huge pending backlog of cases at every level; and (2) provide justice at the proverbial ‘doorstep’.
It envisaged that in order to accelerate the disposal of cases, procedures will be greatly simplified. In particular, legislation will be enacted to provide that: (a) in civil cases, initial trial to be completed within one year, and appellate proceedings within the following year; and (b) in criminal cases, trial to be completed within six months and appeal be decided within one year.
“Such legislation will include provisions for day-to-day hearings and award of heavy costs for unjustified delays and frivolous litigation. The number of judges will be substantially increased. All vacancies will be filled in on a priority basis. New posts will be created keeping in view pendency of cases at different levels of the judicial hierarchy enabling an average case to pass through each level within one year. Judges (from the lawyer community) could be appointed on contract basis for a suitable period to help reduce backlog. Necessary support staff and infrastructure, including state-of-the-art equipment and technology, will be provided. In consultation with the judiciary, arrangements will also be made for extended court hours/evening courts, where feasible.”
The manifesto added, “All judges and court officials will be required to undergo regular training courses to acquaint them with up-to-date laws and modern case flow management techniques, etc.”
It said, “In order to dramatically shorten time spent in litigation, the PML-N government will request the Pakistan Law Commission to examine the feasibility of reducing the existing 4-tier system (trial court, appellate court, High Court, Supreme Court) to 3-tier system (trial court, appellate/High Court, Supreme Court), as in the case of special laws, e.g. banking, labour, and environmental laws. Under this radical reform, civil courts would be abolished and trial would start at the Additional District Judge level. This will not only reduce litigation time by several years, but will also improve the quality of judgments at the trial level.”
* * *The PML-N also promised that the Pakistan Code needed to be revised, updated and simplified so that the common man could easily understand and utilise laws which could cater to present day requirements. For this purpose, it added that the membership of the Pakistan Law Commission will be strengthened with eminent jurists, lawyers, government officers and members of civil society and entrusted with the task of reviewing all existing laws on the statute books and recommending, on a continuous monthly basis, over a period of 6 months: a) repeal of outdated laws which have become redundant; b) amendments to laws in the light of new trends, requirements and development; and c) consolidation of all laws on the same subject.