Access to justice remains a dream for poor citizens – by Shaukat Masood Zafar

Judiciary in our country had never been independent as is now to some extent. With the strong support of media, lawyers, and the civil society Supreme Court had been restored. The people, who had strived and hoped for an independent judiciary and cheerfully participated in the movement of restoration of judiciary, now stand ostracized and highly disappointed on witnessing the unfortunate outcome of their struggle and sacrifices and now have too many tearful eyes due to denial of justice by the Supreme Court on technical grounds.

During the campaign, it was repeatedly assured to the people that they will get real and prompt justice, but there is no change. Till now the judges have proved their independent position up to their own cause and not for the rule of law, supremacy of judiciary and real access to justice to the people at large, causing social unrest in the people including low paid government employees. Justice is as important for other poor employees as it is for judges. The judges crossed all limits of professional grace and over-reacted to an unsubstantiated over-played and over-sensationalized news story for their own cause; can they react in the same manner for thousands of other poor employees also? Position on ground is that thousands and thousands of cases relating to service matter have been abated by the Supreme Court merely to lessen the burden on it by denying justice by raising some technical grounds but when it came to judiciary itself they started court in night and could not wait till morning even. The judiciary enjoyed the complete support of the masses but is now delivering nothing to them in real sense. Taking suo moto actions in certain cases by the Supreme Court is only for gaining popularity and in some cases merely a power game.

The apex court instead of deciding the cases of poor employees on merit in line with the true spirit of justice is rejecting/ dismissing the same on technical grounds. The most recent example is contempt case of old aged employees of Zarai Taraqiati Bank in their Cr. petition No.44 of 2010. They spent eight years in litigation when their case came up for hearing during February 2010. The apex court in spite of reaching at precise conclusion, instead of giving its own clear verdict, relied upon an ambiguous commitment of the respondent Bank “re-examining” the pension case of 13 petitioners and disposed of the appeals on that commitment. The Bank deviated from its commitment and paid difference of pension to three appellants depriving ten people by concocting false grounds. The petitioners filed a criminal petition seeking action against the respondents under contempt of court procedure. Although the respondents had clearly flouted the order of the court by distorting the facts and producing some untenable lame excuses yet the court provided shelter to the respondent department merely for the reason that it had issued a baseless letter which to the apex court was “implementation of the order”.

Instead of asking the respondents for proper implementation the petitioners were advised by the court to seek remedy, if available, in accordance with law, rendering those old aged retired people to pay the high fees of the counsels afresh and be ready for another round of eight to ten years of litigation. They will be provided justice when they will be in graves. It is just one example. The apex court has get rid of thousands of other cases by disposing them on “technical grounds” instead of their adjudication by following the due course of law with the result that those thousands of employees are rolling here and there for seeking justice who now even do not know the actual court of their jurisdiction.

By so doing, the Supreme Court has given license to every court to do the same. The employees of the public sector corporations have been left with no judicial forum to agitate their grievances in their service matters.

The rule of law exists in speeches and papers only. It seems this evolutionary process of independence of judiciary would be going on for next century the fruits of which should reach to the common man after the next century is over. Pakistan seems a long way from such a day when there will be real justice. Still feudal methods to resolve disputes even in the higher courts is in vogue and it is obvious that to obtain even a modicum of justice continues to be an expensive affair in Pakistan, and one vulnerable to the whims of the political elite at all levels.

The decisions are subjected not to merit of the case but on the basis of face value of the counsels. The verdict of the apex court is changing every next day and conflicting judgments constantly issued by the apex court particularly in service matters are creating confusion in lower courts also and the petitioners in all the lower courts are now frustrated.

The people are therefore confused what to do. The people working in government departments and corporations established under act of parliament have been factually left with no judicial forum to agitate their grievances in service matters. Coming to the lower courts, after hearing the views of esteemed Chief Justice of Punjab regarding his relations with Sharif family, doubts were raised in minds of the people regarding the fair trial and even playing field for everyone, and for the overall behavior and professionalism of Pakistan’s judiciary also.

There are double standards prevailing in the courts even at present. I would like to quote another example of low paid employees of ZTBL Mr. Muhammad Iqbal Khattak and Mr Arshad; these innocent employees were dismissed quite illegally by such President of the Bank, whose own appointment has been declared illegal by the Lahore High Court Rawalpindi Bench after an extraordinary lengthy trial. Their appeals were taken up by the Federal Service Tribunal very proactively and were dismissed summarily due to pressure mounted by the President ZTBL, and their appeals in the Supreme Court were also disposed off instantly merely on technical grounds.

Contrarily, Intra Court Appeal of the same President ZTBL whose appointment has been declared as illegal and who is flooding the Bank without any merit by making thousands of appointments on political considerations, who has appointed his nears and dears on top management positions without any skill and experience, who has devastated the whole bank which is now at the verge of collapse, is unnecessarily lingered on by the High Court just to provide him an opportunity to complete his illegal tenure by hook or by crook. This dual policy is against the spirit of justice. What sort of justice has been introduced in new judicial policy which crushes the poor and provides shelter only to the elite?

The Federal Service Tribunal, having exclusive jurisdiction in the matters related to civil servants, has not been able to achieve the goals envisaged at the time of its establishment. Due to prevailing procedure of appointment of its Chairman and Members, it could not deliver properly. It has mostly validated the wrongful decisions of the government institutions. It is too weak to implement its decisions or to take any action against the faulted/ defying public officials.

The people once heart and soul of the restoration movement of judiciary have now termed it judicial dictatorship in Pakistan only due to these shortfalls. Pakistan, where the rule of law is uncertain, the role of the courts is, too, and, uncertainty is ruling even today. Our judicial system is still full of contradictions and based on favoritism and nepotism. In lower courts most of the judges at all levels are involved in minting money and blessing their near and dear ones. This speaks of our judicial system and its fairness. Overall, the public is again losing confidence in the justice system which undermines the rule of law and contributes to rising violence, including crime, terrorism and human rights abuses.

Yes, of course at a time when rule of law is absent it is only natural criminals who will rule over the country. Judicial prudence is still as much at fault as the political conditions that have so often forced the hands of judges. The Courts rest their decisions mostly on technical grounds instead of following the law itself and giving clear verdicts of their own. Like our system where an ordinary citizen can get justice against another citizen, but both cannot get justice against the elite and influential, cannot be said a free and fair judicial system and if judiciary is not capable of protecting even fundamental right, then the whole set-up may exist in fact de facto but not de jure. Merely raising slogans and framing ineffective policies not, by itself, makes the courts free and certainly won’t deliver justice. Institutions are strengthened through personal endeavors. For that to happen, the courts should deliver judgments strictly in accordance with true norms of justice and the executive must agree to abide by court decisions.