Improving Access to Justice
Access to justice remains elusive for most citizens of Pakistan. There are many legislative improvements in the justice system that can be implemented.
Pakistan inherited its judicial system from the British. However, the laws and legal institutions inherited were those suited for rule by a colonial power. In the 74 years history of Pakistan, the legal and judicial system has been adapted to suit the needs of martial law and an evolving democratic system. While successive governments have adopted the inherited judicial system, very little has been done to analyze and address its problems and to increase its efficiency. This results in a massive backlog in the courts and severe dissatisfaction among litigants. Litigants complain not only about delays in obtaining justice but also about the quality of justice received. With inadequate educational standards and malpractices in the legal profession, the quality of the legal profession has rapidly deteriorated. The situation has been exacerbated by neglect and inadequate investment in the system by successive governments. As a result, courts are understaffed and lack trained administrators, and modern management systems and technology. The physical infrastructure of the courts is also grossly inadequate and of a poor quality.
According to the Law and Justice Commission of Pakistan, there is a long pendency of cases in courts all over the Pakistan. There are forty thousand cases pending with the Supreme Court, about three hundred thousand with the five high courts and about two million with the subordinate judiciary of the four provinces and the federal capital. During the last five years, the number of cases pending in the Supreme Court has become more than double and is at the highest level for the last 15 years. In 2006, the number of pending cases before it were 13,724, but today it is three times of that.
Here are some recommendations regarding steps that could be taken to improve access to justice, reduce the backlog of cases, and make the justice system more efficient, transparent and accessible. Some of these recommendations have already been proposed by the judiciary and partially implemented, but can be further improved with support from the government.
Alternative Dispute Resolution:
Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) is the procedure for settling disputes without litigation, such as negotiation, conciliation, mediation, and arbitration. ADR procedures are usually less costly and more expeditious.They are increasingly being utilized in disputes that would otherwise result in lengthy litigation. ADR is adopted as a tool to settle disputes alongside the court system itself.
The National Judicial Policy and the Punjab and KP strategy documents include references to ADR processes for improving access to justice. In Punjab, since 2017, ADR centres have been introduced at the district judiciary level in all districts of the province. Punjab’s success with the ADR centres in each district should be replicated across Pakistan and the number and scope of ADR centres in Punjab should also be increased.