Justice served?: Almost half family court verdicts delivered ex-parte

Judges and litigants complain that the respondent’s stated address is often wrong.

Rana Yasif October 01, 2011


A large proportion of cases in the family courts are decided ex-parte – meaning in the absence of respondents – often because the respondents aren’t even aware of the case, The Express Tribune has learnt.

According to the record of two family courts from September 1 to 24, each court decided around a hundred cases, with one court giving 60 decisions ex-parte and the other 30, meaning close to half the cases were decided with the respondent either unaware or unwilling to attend hearings.

It is hard to attribute responsibility for this high rate. In conversation with judges, lawyers, petitioners and court staffers, this correspondent heard some blame unethical lawyers and petitioners, who deliberately put down the wrong address so the respondent couldn’t contest the case and they got a one-sided hearing.

Some blamed court messengers, saying they took bribes from the respondent to report that they had been unable to deliver the court notice, so the respondent could later appeal the verdict on the grounds that it was delivered without her knowledge.

In most of the ex-parte decisions, the court messenger states that he was unable to deliver the notice because the respondent wasn’t at the address given in the petition, or the residence was locked and it could not be ascertained whether the respondent was there or not.

In several petitions, the address names a general area like Samanabad or Multan Road without giving a specific address.

I’m divorced?

Bashir Ahmed, 68, has appealed to the District Court against an ex-parte decision dissolving his marriage. In his petition, he said he had been delivered notice by the union council secretary in his home village of Kot Barkat Ali, Mian Channu tehsil, Khanewal, of a family court’s decision granting his wife Ramazana Bibi a divorce, but he had not been delivered a court notice at any point during the actual case proceedings.

He said that the address stated in his wife’s divorce petition was not his address. He said this was a deliberate tactic by the other side to make sure that he didn’t hear of the case. He said the court notice had not been advertised in the newspapers.

Court notices are also often not served in civil cases. Civil Judge Abdul Jabbar Hinjra is currently hearing a case concerning a property dispute in which eight notices have been issued to the respondents, who supposedly live in Wassanpura. On each occasion, the court messenger has reported that the respondent does not live at the stated address.

Talking to The Express Tribune, some judges said that giving an incorrect address for the respondent was an old and common lawyers’ tactic. Asked what could be done to tackle this, they said that ethical standards would have to be raised.

Lawyers said that their clients often did not know the complete addresses of the respondents, so they mentioned a generalised address. Some lawyers admitted to deliberately putting down the wrong address, though others denied it and said it was not their responsibility to find out the respondent’s address.

Court messengers said that finding respondents was a challenging job. “Sometimes I spend the whole day looking for the address only to discover there is no such address. Often when I find it that person does not live there,” said one official.

They denied accepting bribes from respondents, saying they couldn’t get money from someone if they couldn’t find that person.

District and Sessions Judge Mujahid Mustaqeem Ahmed admitted that the proportion of ex-parte decisions was alarmingly high and needed to be addressed.

He said he would call a meeting of all additional district and sessions judges and family judges to discuss the problem.

He said that sometimes the petitioner or lawyer deliberately wrote down the wrong address for the petitioner, but often they did not know the address.

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


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