The legal system nationally is sclerotic and in need of reform and few would challenge that. There are frequent grumbles about the length of time it takes to get cases heard and lawyers are adept at stringing out proceedings as long as they can to further fatten their wallets. Courts are inefficient and paper systems rooted in a far past. All of this is a daily reality but there is another problem, and this one very much self-inflicted, that is clogging the system — frivolous cases. Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Mian Saqib Nisar highlighted this when he was speaking at a ceremony to mark the start of the 2018-2019 judicial year.
At the start of the last judicial year there were around 37,000 cases pending adjudication and this despite the fact that 19,000 cases were decided. The CJP did not mince his words — ‘a major contributing factor to the backlog is frivolous litigation.’ Whilst every citizen has the right to recourse to law it is possible to have too much of a good thing. But once a population has acquired the taste for jumping to law at the drop of a tort — look at America — it is exceedingly difficult to wean them off the teat that satisfies their frivolous needs. The CJP went further — ‘…these menaces should be seen as nothing less than poison’ — which may be something of a stretch but we understand where the CJP is coming from.
It is difficult to know where to start in terms of curbing frivolous litigation without raising all manner of issues relating to freedom of speech which is anyway a much-vexed matter in Pakistan. One possible way forward is for the imposition of heavy costs — in effect a fine — where the courts come to the conclusion that a petition has been filed without valid reasons or a justifiable cause. This may act as a deterrent but if a litigant is determined to pursue his or her case no matter what the cost then there is little that the courts can do. Dour ‘frivolity’ is going to be hindering justice for years to come.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 12th, 2018.