The job of converting intentions into actions remains an enormous challenge in today’s democratic Pakistan. Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP), Anwar Zaheer Jamali’s speech at the opening ceremony of New Judicial Year on Monday and a PILDAT public opinion poll on ‘Quality of Democracy in Pakistan’ made public the same day help understand the reason.
Thousands of cases are pending for adjudication in the Supreme Court, and their number in lower courts must be in hundreds of thousands. Then there are cases that don’t get decided in the span of a single generation. And seeking justice is also very costly. Why all these negatives when we have functioning courts, qualified judges and a proactive legal fraternity?
In this disturbing narrative, Justice Jamali detects the lingering absence of self-accountability on the part of all three stakeholders as villain of piece. Then there are public complaints against some of the judges of superior courts that remain unaddressed, essentially because the constitutionally mandated Supreme Judicial Council that should hold the errant accountable is missing from the scene.
Now that the Chief Justice is determined to reactivate the Council there is hope that complaints on this account would be addressed promptly. But that said the CJP also expects of the complainant bar councils to ‘revive their disciplinary committees for accountability of delinquent lawyers in accordance with the law’. The process of self-accountability cannot be one-sided, cautioned the Chief Justice.
Such a frank discourse was in order for quite some time, given the frequent strikes by lawyers which enormous cause pain to no one but the hapless litigants as hearing of their cases keep getting adjourned. How enormous is the challenge of pendency of cases in the lower courts one would get an idea from the fact even in the highest court of the country there is a backlog of 26,000 cases despite its judges’ tremendous efforts.
Among the reasons causing heavy pendency Chief Justice Jamali mentioned the extra court time consumed by the full court hearings of petitions against the constitutional amendments and validity of 2013 general elections – and no less interestingly the PTI and PAT sit-ins on the Constitution Avenue ‘blocking the easy access of litigants as well as counsel’.
As to how the new Chief Justice of Pakistan views the overall ambience now obtaining in the country Justice Jamali believes the people look to the Supreme Court for adjudication of social and political issues.
He says, with the judiciary exercising its powers within the ambit of the constitution in the larger interest of institutional harmony to fortify the foundations of the state, no institution can be allowed to operate beyond the constitutional limits. The constitution enunciates ‘separation of powers’ and thus ensures a balance in statecraft.
If democracy, as functioning in the country today, is resilient enough to ensure fair distribution of powers among the institutions, a recently conducted public opinion poll of Pakistan Institute of Legislative Democracy and Transparency (PILDAT) sounds quite optimistic. It says 66 percent of respondents support democracy and 64 percent believe elected democratic governments are the country’s best option, as against 20 percent who say another military take-over would serve the country better.
At the same time military continues to be the most popular institution with an approval rating of 75 percent, the survey says. If things refuse to turn better for the common man, the PILDAT survey finds the respondents pinning down the popular grievances on the bureaucracy.
In common parlance it means a functioning democracy and a delivering military have come to happily co-exist, nullifying the impression engendered by some quarters that the increasing say of armed forces in deepening writ of state, as they do by going after criminal and corrupt elements, is beyond the forces’ constitutional mandate. To this one may respond that if the forces remain most popular institution it is because that is in line with their constitutional obligation and the dictate of the 20-point National Action Plan unanimously endorsed by all the political parties. Yet another proof that institutional limits are getting better defined and confirmed is the high marks both state and public institutions have scored with approval ratings of the media being at 64%, effectiveness of Supreme Court 55%, favourite political party 56% and federal cabinet 52%.
But as they say no chain can be stronger than its weakest link, if the country’s bureaucracy falls far short of public trust then there is not much that other institutions can do, independently or collectively, to undertake the most essential task which is to restore the much wanted rule of law in Pakistan.