Improving dispensation of justice
Huzaima Bukhari, Dr. Ikramul Haq & Syed Muhammad Ijaz
The purpose of annual reports published by the Supreme Court of Pakistan is to highlight its performance with respect to disposal of cases, efforts to improve the general system of judicial administration of the country and making access to justice more convenient for the stakeholders.
This article presents brief analysis of the efforts made by the Supreme Court of Pakistan in disposal of cases as mentioned in its Annual Report for the period from June 2018 to May 2019 [hereinafter: “the Report”], issued on its website on August 22, 2020 and can be viewed at:
The comprehensive Report has much to offer but from the standpoint of an ordinary citizen, pendency and disposal of cases are matters of prime importance as these directly impact effective and timely dissemination of justice.
The Registrar mentions in the Report: “On 1st June, 2018 pendency of the cases in the Court stood at 40,091. From 1st June 2018 to 31st May 2019, 22526 new cases were filed, which raised the pendency figures to 62617. However, during this period 19,564 cases were decided, thereby reducing the overall pendency to 43,053”.
Principal seat and branch registry-wise pendency as on June 1, 2018 stood as under:
Islamabad 16,687 Lahore 16,307 Karachi 1,612 Peshawar 4,511 and Quetta 974.
Category wise institution of disposal position for the principal seat and the branch registry is as follows; Civil Petitions Opening 19008 instituted during the period 12818 disposed of during the period 10201 Closing 21625 [as on May 31, 2019]. Civil Appeals Opening 9324 instituted during the period 3007 disposed of during the period 2858 Closing 9473 [as on May 31, 2019]. Criminal Petitions Opening 3830 instituted during the period 3496 disposed of during the period 2673 Closing 4653 [as on May 31, 2019]. Criminal Appeals Opening 1050 instituted during the period 766 disposed of during the period 1470 Closing 346 [as on May 31, 2019]
The net increase of 2,962 cases added to the burden of already pending 40,091 cases needs immediate attention. This calls for measures to improve quick disposal of cases for which, certain steps have already been taken by the Supreme Court that include among others, establishment of model courts and E-Courts, but these alone are not enough. In view of large pendency of cases, not only amendments in laws are required for eliminating unnecessary litigation but also for raising the number of judges in the Supreme Court.
As per Chapter 5 of the Report, special directions were issued to the Weeding Section of the Court to scrutinize old cases for the purpose of discarding those that had lost their relevance, as a result of which 8,315 old cases were weeded out.
Expatriates case wing proved to be an arena where disposal of Supreme Court was very swift outnumbering other categories of cases. Total number of cases instituted during the period was 688, out of which 662 were disposed of during the period while 26 remained pending up to May 29, 2019—these might have been decided later on.
Besides disposal of cases, the Report mentions that on human rights front performance of the Court albeit scarcity of resources was highly commendable. The Registrar writes: “During the period, Human Rights Cell received applications/ complaints from the poor, downtrodden and vulnerable segments of society. On 1st June 2018 pendency of cases in Human Right Cell stood at 10841 and during the reported period 97885 new applications/complaints were received, which raised the pendency figures to 108,726 out of which 105,617 were disposed of and overall pendency stood at 3109”.
The above figures show that the Supreme Court indeed performed marvelously and deserves kudos for putting in creditable efforts to muster a sharp decline in pendency from 108,726 to just 3109.
The most striking aspect of the Report pertains to annual expenditure of Rs. 1,806,043,316 as against assigned budgetary figure of Rs. 1,964,000,000. When calculated, the average cost of each case disposed of, comes to only Rs. 14,352, which is quite nominal, rather negligible. A similar exercise could be undertaken for the country’s High Courts and subordinate courts, details of which have been provided in the report to estimate cost per case. Delving further into details can also be useful in laying out province-wise cost. This kind of an analysis could be helpful in determining the financial side of judicial administration.
It is lamentable that instead of reducing wasteful expenses, the Government provided only 0.003 percent of total budget to the cause of dispensation of justice, which is the main pillar of democracy in any society. It shows that the priorities of the government are not in the areas that are directly advantageous for the betterment of society as a whole, for example, in the areas of education, health and above all dispensation of justice and making it easier for the citizens in terms of cost and time of disposal of cases. The question that arises after going through the Report is that if the people of this country are to be provided with justice then why is it of least priority of the government? The Report confirms that despite having limited resources and expending less than what was allocated, the efforts of the Supreme Court in disposal of cases are commendable.
For the effective working of entire judicial system, there is a dire need to increase the amount of budget allocation to judiciary, enabling it to increase its workforce, reaching out to the masses at the grassroots level, make use of technological advancements and improve human resource in terms of efficiency with improvement in the area of administrative handling of the cases and hiring research team for sorting out the cases that can be disposed of quickly on the basis of already laid down principles by the honourable Supreme Court.
It is worth mentioning that The National Judicial Policy Making Committee (NJPMC) in its meeting in March 2020 in Lahore expressed concern over backlog of cases in all cadres of the judiciary and resolved to fill all vacant posts of judges within six months. It was observed in the meeting held at the Supreme Court’s Lahore registry that due to vacancies in administrative tribunals and special courts working under federal and provincial jurisdictions, there was a huge pendency of revenue, banking and commercial cases which might affect public revenues and the economy. Besides filling all the vacancies, it is imperative to take measures for improvement at the executive level for strengthening the prosecution side and ensuring that causes of litigation are removed.
There is also an urgent need for legislative reforms for effective administration of justice as suggested time and again by the Supreme Court in its decisions and by Law and Justice Commission of Pakistan in its reports. The elected members must give due attention to this neglected area. All institutions, Legislature, Judiciary and Executive, should take steps towards holistic reforms. At the same time, media and civil society must play their role for educating the people to abide by the law and respect the rights of others. Combined efforts of all will definitely bring significant improvement in reducing litigation and accelerate the process of dissemination of justice.
The writers are lawyers and partners of Huzaima, Ikram & Ijaz. Huzaima and Ikram are adjunct faculty of Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) and Syed Muhammad Ijaz is that of Beaconhouse National University (BNU).