Justice delayed: No dent made in case backlog

Judges, lawyers and litigants blame each other for pending cases.


Rana Yasif July 31, 2011

LAHORE:


The number of cases pending at the city’s civil courts and judicial magistrates fell slightly from 146,997 to 146,125 from July 2010 to July 2011.


Over the course of the year, the courts disposed of 11,630 cases, including 6,166 civil cases and 5,464 criminal cases, leaving a backlog of 82,370 civil and 63,755 criminal cases as of July 2011.

In July 2010, the number of pending civil cases stood at 82,190 and the number of pending criminal cases at 64,807. The city is served by 89 civil judges and 44 judicial magistrates.

In talks with The Express Triune, several judges blamed lawyers for the backlog, saying they delayed a lot of cases. Lawyers put it down to overworked judges and clients who didn’t pay them or wanted their cases to remain pending. Several judicial and civil magistrates said that lawyers used various tactics to keep getting continuances and this practice must be stopped if the backlog is to be reduced. Often, lawyers did not even turn up for hearings. Some judges said that there was also a shortage of judges in rent and family courts.

Lawyers said a majority of cases were pending because the litigants hadn’t paid their representative. In some cases, the client wanted the case to remain undecided, sometimes the case required a lot of time because it was really complex, and sometimes the judge was so busy that they didn’t have time to record witness statements. “How can you expect prompt justice when the judge is shearing 80 cases a day?” said one lawyer.

Litigants blamed lawyers for not showing up and judges for not ‘fixing’ them. Muhammad Saleem said that he had been trying to get his name cleared in a criminal case for a year and a half, but each time the lawyer for the prosecution was absent and would get a continuance.

Sessions Court Superintendent Chaudhry Muhammad Arif did not agree that more judges were needed, but said that procedures needed to be streamlined to speed up the disposal of cases.

“The population is increasing day by day as well as the crime ratio but that does not mean we need to keep increasing the number of judges,” he said. Arif said that ensuring lawyers turn up for hearings was the most important step. The number of cases in the backlog could be reduced by speeding up the process of appeals, he said.

For example, when a judge is handing out a decision in a case, he could ask the parties involved if they intend to appeal, and if they do, he could forward the case file and his verdict to the relevant court immediately. “This would save time,” he said.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 1st, 2011.

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