The Sindh High Court goes back to work today, Tuesday, after a winter recess of 12 days but as lawyers and clients line up, there will be only 13 judges to handle hundreds of cases.
The highest judicial forum of the province is supposed to have a total of 40 judges but for the last one year it has been working with only 14 judges. The problem is that the Sindh government has delayed announcing the names of new judges.
And with SHC Chief Justice Mushir Alam assigned to the Memogate Commission for at least a month, the high court is left with only 13 judges.
On average, 200 new cases are filed daily, including constitutional petitions and appeals against orders of the lower courts. Although about 150 to 200 cases are fixed before the benches every day, only up to 30 can be heard. Right now, priority is accorded to the cases pending since 2004 and onwards, a judicial officer said.
The data from different branches of the high court show that about 33,000 to 35,000 constitutional petitions are pending. The total backlog is around 75,000 and the number is increasing daily, the sources said.
Over 80 per cent of cases fixed are adjourned every day.
According to its website, the work will be spread out among three division benches (each with two judges) and eight single benches (a single judge). The division benches will split up into single benches in order to make it possible for the maximum number of cases to be heard. This has been probably undertaken for the first time in the history of the high court as it has never functioned with such a low number of judges ever. The shortage of judges has overburdened the benches at the principal seat of Karachi and also affects the circuit benches in Hyderabad, Sukkur and Larkana.
Interestingly, the Larkana circuit bench will not function on the first three days of the week, that are, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday but will work only on Thursday and Friday when a judge or a bench will be available.
The SHC website showed that Justice Nisar Muhammad Shaikh will be heading a bench at Hyderabad from January 10 (Tuesday) but at the same time he will be sitting at Karachi according to the cause list for the same date.
Sources said that government is not willing to approve the recommendations made by the judicial authority. “It (the government) wants to induct its own men into the judiciary,” they said.
The difference of opinion between the government and judiciary over the appointment of judges is no more a secret in Sindh. It was on the eve of the commencement of the new judicial calendar when Sindh’s chief law officer, Advocate General Abdul Fattah Malik, said that judges from rural Sindh were neglected.
This means that the objectives set in the “National Judicial Policy” on the directives of the chief justice are far from being met.
On the one hand, the Sindh government is not inclined to approve the recommendations made by the judiciary on the new judges on merit. On the other hand, the judiciary is opposed to the political appointment of judges, said a senior member of the Sindh Bar Council who did not want to be named. “The friction between the two institutions would hurt or (affect) the poor litigants.”
Published in The Express Tribune, January 10th, 2012.