PAKISTAN: Justice System: successes and failures

Salman Ali

William Ewart Gladstone, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom in the late 19th century, once said, “Justice delayed is justice denied”. Moreover, the right to receive justice without delay was one of the promises made by King John of England in the Magna Carta 1215. Unfortunately, today’s Pakistan presents a typical example of this maxim because the judicial system of the country is so slow and lethargic that for a case started by a grandfather, his grandson would be able to get the verdict.

Our toothless laws are not the only reason behind dismal performance of the judiciary; many other different factors contribute to the loopholes. Sometimes lawyers themselves prolong the matter by not appearing before the court and instead send only a request for the next date of hearing through their clerks. Then due to a large number of cases and scarcity of judges, many cases are fixed for a future date. Currently, there are 8 Supreme Court judges who decide the disputes for 180 million population and 48 judges of the Lahore High Court (LHC) are dispensing justice to nearly 100 million population of the Punjab province. Superior judiciary remains tangled in political cases and mostly, more than two judges sit on a full bench to hear such cases.

There is genuine perception that courts are now meant just to hear high profile cases like Memo Gate and Panama that attract media attention and make headlines while other cases are kept pending, adding to frustration of the litigants. General public feel they are fighting an impossible battle because the local police is responsible for delivering justice, and the judiciary, which is responsible for speeding up the legal process and honouring justice, are not always concentrating on their jobs, as defined by the Constitution of Pakistan. But one can ask whether the activism of judiciary provides any relief to the common people. The answer is a big no!

On the basis of the official statistics available up to December 2014, there are 1,754,420 cases pending in the Supreme court, Federal Shariah Court, High court and the districts courts in Pakistan. The breakdown is as follows; Supreme court 22,764, Federal Shariah Court 1014, Lahore High Court 164,683, Sindh High Court 70,046, Peshawar High Court 27,541, Balochistan High Court 5279, Islamabad High Court 14500, Punjab District Courts 1161524, Sindh District Courts 127314, KP District Courts 145203, Balochistan District Court 9458, and Islamabad District Courts 27858.

In addition to these cases, on the basis of official statistics available up to December 2013, there are 123,531 pending cases before various special courts and tribunals (e.g anti-terrorism courts, national accountability courts, banking courts). Therefore, the grand total of all cases pending before various courts is 1900715 and even if the statistics are updated, it is most probably around 2.1 million cases.

Answer to my above mentioned question is that these pending cases can be solved within no time when justice will come from the judiciary itself. The most important issue is that there are too few judges chasing too many cases. Therefore, all current judicial vacancies need to be filled and the number of judges should be increased in specific high courts and specific district courts with high case pendency.

Sarmad Ali, a legal expert, says, “a civil suit in Pakistan takes nearly two decades to get decided by the civil court and the proceedings of the Sessions Courts, High Courts and Supreme Court of Pakistan also take almost similar time.

“I personally think that the judiciary should recognise its responsibility to speed up the judicial process and provide justice only on merit as per the Constitution of Pakistan without succumbing to so-called technicalities, however, people who have no influence and are seeking justice purely on merit deserve speedy justice without facing malpractices” says Ali.

I believe that our court system needs judicial reforms. Cases should be heard on merit and there should be a specific time frame for the settlement of cases. Cases should not linger on for generations. The government should set up a free judicial assistance service, which will ensure the provision of legal help to the poor litigants who cannot afford exorbitant fees of lawyers. Moreover, the government should also set up more courts at district and tehsil level to provide cheap and speedy justice at grassroots level.

The writer is a social and political activist based in Lahore. He has done his Maters and MPhil in Communication Studies. Presently, he is linked with a humanitarian organization working in Interior Sindh. He can be reached at

The views shared in this article do not necessarily reflect that of the AHRC.