Half-baked justice

Half-baked justice

Durdana Najam June 04, 2021
The writer is a public policy analyst based in Lahore and be reached at durdananajam1@gmail.com

In its Twitter message, the Punjab police posted a video of Ayesha Mazhar receiving Rs475,000 from a police officer. Clearly, the police were taking credit for the swift resolution of an issue brought to the attention of Prime Minister Imran Khan during his one-on-one telephonic conversation with the public on May 30, 2021. Ayesha had rented her home in Lahore to the brother of some SSP in March 2019. Soon the tenant stopped paying her rent — a clear indication that he planned to grab her property. The woman went to the police to register the case against illegal possession of her home but to no avail. She went to various television channels and journalists, pleading with them to report her problem. Most of them asked her to surrender and sell her home at a minimal price to the usurper. Some wanted their palm greased to do the job. She knocked on the doors of government officials and reminded them of their duty of helping a citizen facing the highhandedness of a powerful man. However, too busy in carving a Riyasat-e-Madina, the officers did not find the case important enough to waste time. Every door she went to was slammed on her face. She was humiliated at the police station where the officers called her a prostitute. The courts favoured the usurper and gave him multiple stay orders. After running amuck for one year she found a messiah in the former CCPO Lahore Omer Sheikh, who solved the issue within 15 days. She got her home back, but the outstanding amount of Rs475,000 was not compensated.

The question is: do we believe that justice has been done in this case? What about the criminals? Were they arrested? What about the facilitators, such as the SSP himself, whose power his brother was using to harass the woman? Was he questioned or suspended for abetting the criminal? What about those police officers who called her a prostitute? Was the police culture debated, and the IG held responsible for letting such nonsense pass? What about the judiciary that supported the usurper by giving him an illegal stay order? Were the judges asked to take notice of this practice and the complicit judge dressed down? None of these people have been questioned. Neither was the system challenged. How can this be called justice? How would crime end when punishments are not dispensed and criminals are protected under the cover of out-of-court settlement? The prime minister had a golden chance of making this a test case by putting on trial everyone who had their hand in usurping the property. The problem is that Imran Khan, like many other leaders, cannot take the risk of challenging the status quo. The least he can do is expose the system — beyond that, his movements are clipped as well. When Ayesha told her story to the prime minister, he conceded that justice had become a rare commodity, which only the powerful and influential could get.

According to the World Justice Project Rule of Law 2020 report, Pakistan is ranked 120 out of 128 countries. Higher the rank bigger the flaws identified. Still worst is that from the previous year Pakistan’s performance has dropped one level down.

There are four universal principles of the rule of law: Accountability, Just Laws, Open Government, and Accessible and Impartial Dispute Resolution. Unfortunately, we have not yet moved from the first rung of this ladder. Accountability has been used as a tool of harassment and oppression rather than system correction.

The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) was set up by a military dictator Pervez Musharraf to blackmail the opposition. The trend has not stopped to date.

Pakistan’s judicial system has had its worst enemy in the lawyers’ fraternity. It goes in their favour if the wheel of justice grinds slowly. They make money out of prolonged cases. If they can vandalise property, their brother judges, or doctors on egotistical issues, they can also influence the government to reform the judicial system. Though many laws have been amended and restructured, there is a dearth of trained prosecutors, police officers, investigating officers, and judges. It is, therefore, that the rate of conviction is barely 3%.

In a parliamentary form of government, law making is the job of parliamentarians. Unfortunately, our lawmakers waste most of their time proving who among them is a bigger chor (thief). Parliament has become redundant. The prime minister hardly goes to the house. Sessions are held to complete the count necessary under the law. The result is that laws are made in haste and imposed through presidential ordinances. How does the government plan to maintain an ordinance that expires after 120 days has never been debated nor questioned. The ongoing rift between the government and the opposition is taking a toll on the judicial reforms that need immediate attention to restore people’s confidence and trust in the system.

Of late, the judges of the higher courts who dared question the powers-that-be were targeted and maligned. Later, when the desired result was not achieved, a campaign was launched to malign the entire legal system. The presenters in those short video clips had in their crosshairs a judicial system that thrives on the corruption of judges. The video’s content was designed to provoke the public to confront the higher judiciary and develop disrespect for lawyers. How can we expect to reform the legal system through hate-mongering and humiliating the judges? In fact, with eroded respect in the legal system people would be pushed to take law in their hands — which is already a common practice.

One of the first steps towards judicial reform is to stop influencing high-profile cases, followed by stopping the judiciary from intervening in civilian matters. Another crucial step is to stop the judges from giving excess statements. Judges speak through their judgments and not statements. Not to forget the urgent need of police reform.

Notwithstanding all these reforms to strengthen the criminal justice system, it would not produce results unless every crime is punished according to the law and Constitution. We had a chance to tie the first knot towards fortifying the system in punishing the brother of the SSP and his entire cohort, but we failed.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 4th, 2021.

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