Access to justice for tribals

Extending the courts to an area which has been neglected for the past 70 years, however, is no easy task

Editorial/editorial December 19, 2018

It has been six months since parliament had passed a landmark bill to merge the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) with Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P), in order to bring these areas into the mainstream. A key aspect of this process was to extend the jurisdiction of the courts to these areas previously governed under what is widely called the draconian colonial remnant of the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR).

In a communiqué by the Peshawar High Court (PHC), which will oversee courts in the newly-merged tribal districts as it does in the rest of the province, had urged the provincial government to start work on setting up of session courts and courts of senior civil judges in the region. These courts, like in other parts of the province, serve as primary judicial vehicles. The extension of the courts became even more important and urgent when the PHC had earlier this year declared the Interim Governance Regulation ultra vires of the Constitution — which means that it overruled the government’s phased transition plan of giving district commissioners the additional judicial powers to adjudicate matters until the courts could be formally extended.

Instead, the PHC had directed the government to complete the extension of the courts within 30 days. Apart from the directives of the PHC, the Supreme Court had also taken note of how the government had yet to extend the courts and notices were issued to the provincial government. Extending the courts to an area which has been neglected for the past 70 years, however, is no easy task, with the move requiring the recruitment of additional judicial staff for these areas and of securing buildings to house the courts in the tribal districts. Justice is a key component of civilised societies and imperative for bringing this neglected section of the country into the mainstream. As a first measure, the provincial government must at least declare the seven tribal districts session divisions and sanction the required judicial posts to get the ball rolling.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 19th, 2018.

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