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Expediting trials

While lawyers find faults with model courts, people are excited at the prospect of quick relief

Expediting trials

The model courts that started functioning on April 1, decided 1,523 cases across the country in first 12 days, according to officially released figures.

Out of the 116 model courts, two are in Islamabad, 36 in Punjab, 27 each in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Sindh, and 24 in Balochistan.

These courts that hear cases of criminal nature (of murder and narcotics), starting from the oldest pending, decided 642 murder and 881 narcotics cases in the first 12 days.

Last month, Chief Justice Supreme Court of Pakistan Asif Saeed Khosa, talking about his mission to reduce the huge backlog of trial courts, said Article 37(d) of the Constitution of Pakistan puts responsibility on the state to provide “expeditious and inexpensive justice” to its people. In line with this constitutional provision which calls for “provision of social justice and eradication of social evils”, the CJP took this ‘Expeditious Justice Initiative’ by setting up model courts at district level to decide the delayed murder and narcotics cases.

A special cell has been set up in the Supreme Court to monitor and evaluate the performance of the model courts. The concept of model courts is derived from the National Judicial Policy 2009, which is challenged by the lawyers’ bodies in the SC and is pending for hearing. The National Judicial Policy-Making Committee, headed by the CJ, approved this model of “time-bound criminal trial regime”.

“The objective of these courts is not to have parallel courts but ensure the trial of such heinous crime without any delay,” Sohail Nasir, a District and Sessions Judge who is working as Director General Model Courts says, “There is no timeframe defined for a case but the procedure is when a case is taken up by a model court it will be heard on day-to-day basis without any adjournment until decided.” Normally, he says, “one to two dozen murder cases are pending in every district court.”

About 5,966 witnesses were testified by the courts, including 163 in Islamabad, 2,502 in Punjab, 1,077 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 1,155 in Sindh and 1069 in Balochistan. While deciding murder cases, these courts awarded death sentence to 45 including two in Islamabad, 29 in Punjab, five in KP, eight in Sindh and one in Balochistan. Similarly, 143 accused were given life imprisonment, including one in Islamabad, 49 in Punjab, 18 in KP, 44 in Sindh and 31 in Balochistan.

“We were wrongly implicated in the case. We got bail from the high court but the decision has been pending for the last five years. I cannot explain how much money, energy and time we have spent on this case,” Muhammad Fayaz, 55, from KP, who has been travelling to Islamabad for the past five years for the proceeding of a murder case of his relative, tells The News on Sunday. He is one of the accused murderers in the case.

Last week, his case got shifted to the model court. “We are very happy that our case will be decided within a month — that our trial will end,” Fayaz maintains.

The sitting CJP Khosa, as judge of the apex and high court, in some other measures, has ordered that the succession certificate be issued by National Database Registration Authority (NADRA) instead of civil courts and has directed that if a police case (First Information Report) is not lodged in a police station, the complainant should go to the area superintendent police rather than approaching court. These steps, he thinks, will reduce significant unnecessary burden on the courts. Many legal experts take it as an exclusive initiative of chief justice merely to deal with pendency, while some feel it is a gimmick to become popular.

“It is a good initiative. Originally, the concept of Sessions Courts was to conduct murder trial in consecutive sessions. This effort will help in reducing the backlog but many will not like this change. There is need for marketing and consultations on this concept to develop it further,” says prominent lawyer and columnist Babar Sattar.

“There may be issue with availability of witnesses and other things but there is need to make such consecutive trials possible,” says senior lawyer Chaudhry Muhammad Ikram, adding, “In mid-1970s all criminal trials were being conducted on day-to-day basis but later with the passage of time due to various reasons proceedings slowed down.” He thinks increasing number of cases in the courts affected dispensation of justice on part of the judges and “later financial and administrative corruption added to this bad performance”.

However, lawyers in Karachi, last week disrupted the proceedings of the model criminal trial courts. A group of lawyers, including representatives of the Karachi Bar Association, among others, entered model courts and told the judges to stop proceedings. They also presented copies of a resolution passed by the Pakistan Bar Council (PBC) denouncing the establishment of model courts.

Syed Amjad Shah, Vice Chairman PBC, a lawyers’ body which has announced countrywide weekly protests and urge lawyers to boycott model courts’ proceedings, believes the setting up of such courts is in violation of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) and violation of Constitution’s 18th Amendment which makes dispensation of justice a provincial subject.

“When CrPC already has provision that trial in such criminal cases be concluded within three months then why do we need a parallel system,” asks Shah, while dispelling the impression that lawyers are boycotting these courts merely to delay the cases allegedly to make money or please clients.

“We stand for the justice system, nothing else. We believe these courts are a parallel system and violation of the constitution and existing CrPC law,” Shah says, adding, “After 18th Amendment, the responsibility of dispensing justice lies with the provinces and SC cannot do this. We have already challenged the judicial policy under which these courts are set up and review of the petition is pending before the apex court.”

He says CJP has called the Pakistan Bar Council for a meeting on the issue on April 28 while the council has announced a countrywide strike on April 25. He urges that the existing law be implemented in letter and spirit otherwise in appellate courts, “because of this hasty trial, judges may order fresh trial of these cases”. Also, the appeal of these cases would not be heard immediately. He questions the credibility of the prosecution and investigation in such a short period.

Waqar Gillani

waqar gillani
The author is a staff reporter. He can be reached at [email protected]

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