Open letter to the chief justice of Pakistan
By Imtiaz Gul
The Express Tribune, August 31, 2012
On August 8, Mr Yaseen Azad, President of the Supreme Court Bar Association, drew your attention to an extremely pressing issue, i.e., massive pendency at various courts. He requested the apex court to attend to cases other than those revolving around the NRO.
Mr Azad’s statement relates to the heavy pendency that the judiciary currently faces. The Supreme Court’s annual report covering the period between April 2010 and December 2011 speaks of a staggering pendency of 17,246 cases. Add to them another 620 cases, at least, so far this year, according to a monthly news magazine.
The courts in Punjab, e.g., face a pendency of some 1.6 million cases, including over 700,000 civil cases awaiting decisions since March 2011 in lower and high courts. The pendency at courts in Sindh, Balochistan and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa is equally staggering. This is disturbing if viewed against the new judicial policy developed under your august guidance. This policy had stipulated a maximum of six months for adjudication of civil cases.
On several occasions and at an international judicial conference in April this year, you expressed your commitment to ending the backlog through quicker settlements. However, the cases keep mounting due to deterioration of law and order and abuse of law.
Honourable chief justice, an admirer of the activism you have demonstrated in public interest litigation, I would like to humbly state that the relentless pursuit of the NRO cases has led to the perception of the highest court being driven by political motives. This undermines the esteemed and extremely important office that you and your colleagues hold.
While public sector litigation deserves urgent attention, it also puts limits to the extent to which apex courts can go. Doesn’t the superior court run the risk of losing sight of its primary function, i.e., serving as the guardian and interpreter of fundamental human rights, when it overwhelmingly stretches itself into what is usually the executive’s domain (checks on prices, television censorship and graft cases, for example)?
While the Supreme Court’s proactive moves on various counts came across as a major unprecedented consolation for the hapless millions that continue to suffer under the ruling elite’s abuse of power, poor governance and corruption-plagued system at the lower court level, the Court needs to guard against the hazards that its activism brings with it. Do the highest courts get themselves involved in the constitution of commissions (media, memo, Abbottabad) or act as consumer protection cells?
Interventions in human rights issues, abuse of state power and resources have indeed raised the stature of the apex court but nullification of the privatisation of Pakistan Steel Mills or indecision in the Reko Diq case — so vital to the interests of people of Balochistan — are some examples where the Court was seen lacking and oblivious to economic dictates.
Honourable chief justice, Pakistanis will remember all justices if the justices manage to set new benchmarks for the accountability of public representatives and the ruling elite and ensure rule of and respect for law. This must be the end goal for the Court instead of spending time on cases that are administrative or political in nature.
The writer is executive director of the Centre for Research and Security Studies