RAWALPINDI: For government prosecutors, Javed Iqbal or his colleagues Sanaullah, Shahid Zafar and Mureed Raza, five minutes is the most time they can afford to spend on a single case in a court at a time.
The deputy prosecutors do this not because the state does not pay them enough or that they find better paying and more interesting cases elsewhere, but because such is their caseload that they have to appear in around four different courtrooms almost simultaneously.
Such rush does not afford the time to linger in any case or courtroom longer than what is necessary, and at times, not even that long.
There are some 40 sessions and civil courts in the Rawalpindi Judicial Complex. But there are just 10 government lawyers to handle the hundreds of cases being heard in each of these courts. Additional Deputy Prosecutors Muhammad Shehzad and Bilal Hasan have been assigned nine courts each while Iqbal, Sanaullah, Zafar and Raza tackle four courts each.
If even one of them falls ill, it completely paralyses the system in Rawalpindi’s courts.
The shortage of staff and the high caseload results in slowing down the delivery of justice.
Despite being short-staffed by about 20 deputy and additional prosecutors, the government has not hired a prosecutor for the past three years.
The government has been requested time and again to hire additional prosecutors but each time the move is put off by citing a shortage of funds.
Poor funding hampers courts
The lack of money available manifests in a number of different ways which ultimately end up slowing down prosecution and thus the disposal of cases.
Owing to few funds, the size of the prosecution office in the Rawalpindi Kutchery has not been expanded in years. As a result, if there are more than five lawyers present in the office at any given point, the sixth lawyer onwards would have to stand and do his work.
If any of the litigants come to the office such as police investigators or lawyers for the submission of challans or other case-related material, then the office quickly runs out of standing space even.
Moreover, the prosecutors are not offered any incentives for their work owing to the poor funding. This opens the door for a host of ills or to even speed up case processing.
Curiously, the district kutchery and the prosecution division had been set up Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q) Basharat Raja during his tenure as the Punjab Law Minister under General Pervez Musharraf’s dictatorship.
Raja has returned to the saddle of the Punjab Law Minister with the election of the PTI-led government — the latter striking a bargain with the PML-Q to form a government in the centre and in Punjab.
Despite his return and a bevvy of complaints, he has yet to do anything to resolve issue citing the paucity of funds.
On the other hand, the new year expects to see the appointment of some 10 additional civil judges and magistrates which would only result in more cases for the already overworked prosecutors to manage.
Meanwhile, Rawalpindi District Bar Association President Khurram Masood Kayani told Daily Express that the lack of or shortage of government prosecutors creates a big obstacle in the provision of prompt and affordable justice to the public.
He said that the bar intends to raise this issue in their next meeting with Lahore High Court’s chief justice.
“Separate government lawyers should be fixed for every court. One prosecutor cannot appear in four to nine courts simultaneously,” Kayani stated, adding, “The new government should pay immediate attention to this matter.”
Meanwhile, the District Prosecutor’s Office stated that they have sent a detailed report regarding the shortage of government lawyers to the Provincial Prosecution Branch and that they expect new government lawyers to be appointed at the start of the new year.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 3rd, 2018.