Justice on wheels: The busman's court in Peshawar

Published: August 29, 2013
It is part of a $15 million project by K-P govt and international donors to strengthen the judicial system. PHOTO: EXPRESS

It is part of a $15 million project by K-P govt and international donors to strengthen the judicial system. PHOTO: EXPRESS

PESHAWAR: Sweat pours down Judge Fazal Wadood’s back as he sits perched behind a desk inside a custom-built green bus that is the latest weapon in the battle against crime in Pakistan.

The $98,000 vehicle, whose striped awnings make it more reminiscent of a giant fast food van than an arm of the state, allows Judge Wadood to preside over the country’s first mobile court.

Boasting a portrait of Muhammad Ali Jinnah – and an air conditioner that struggles to fend off the intense summer heat – the bus is designed to go directly to the people, resolving their daily disputes in some of the most remote and dangerous parts of the country.

The aim is to cut down the backlog of cases in ordinary courts dating back years – a situation that has bred frustration, fuelled support for the militants.

It is part of a $15 million project – 25 percent bankrolled by the government in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and the rest by international donors – to strengthen the judicial system and state institutions.

Musarat Shah, a 72-year-old widower locked in a five-year land dispute, is one of the first on board the bus, which has the white crescent and star of the national flag emblazoned on its side.

“Justice delayed is justice denied,” says Shah, furious with the slow pace of the regular court system.

“Multiple commissions were held. One commission finished and demanded another commission, and it was taking us nowhere.”

Wadood summons a group of mediators, who agree to go off and inspect her land, then sets another hearing for a week’s time.

Shah, exhausted and slightly baffled, appeared to reserve judgement on whether the new court would actually help.

The bus has been set up by the Peshwar High Court and the UN Development Programme.

“Strengthening the judicial system and the legitimacy of state institutions is one of the main ways to counter the influence of non-state actors,” Marc-Andre Franche, the head of UNDP in Pakistan, told AFP.

Eight judges and 18 lawyers have been trained in conflict resolution to find quick solutions in simple cases that risk dragging on for years, clogging up the creaking judicial system.

On one day – with the bus stationary in a car park in the Hayatabad suburb of Peshawar – Wadood together with a registrar and stenographer tapping away on a laptop, handled nearly 30 cases.

“Our work is speedy mediation between two parties in property conflict, family problems and other problems we face in daily life,” says Mohammed Osman Khan, chairman of the arbitration council.

But the mobile court faces major challenges if it is to succeed and authorities are to decide whether it is worth rolling out further courtroom buses.

One is the jirga system – traditional gatherings of tribal elders who typically mediate similar disputes at a local level.

Human rights organisations criticise their decisions as arbitrary which, for example, can include women being given away in marriage.

Hayat Ali Shah, director of the judicial academy in Peshawar, believes the two systems can operate side by side.

“A civil litigation in K-P comes to the court only when jirga and all efforts have failed. So hopefully there will be no competition,” he told AFP.

He is hopeful that the bus initiative can take off.

“If you plant a beautiful tree in your lawn and it produces very fine fruits, so everybody living in the neighbourhood… will request a branch to plant in his lawn. So if this bus gives good results, I hope we will have many other buses,” says Shah.

But it remains unclear how many villagers will opt for the mobile bus rather than the traditional jirga system, and if so how quickly.

The other major complication is security. So far, the mobile court has limited its work to the suburbs of Peshawar. Even there, an armed police escort is necessary.

Taliban-led insurgents carry out near daily gun and bomb attacks in the province that have killed thousands in recent years.

The authorities are trying to agree on extra security precautions for when the bus travels to more dangerous parts.

But Wadood, for one, is not afraid of death.

“The law and order situation in our country is the worst now but… there are also problems of security in the (normal) judicial complex, so we don’t fear to work here or there,” he said.

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Reader Comments (7)

  • Irfan
    Aug 29, 2013 - 12:36PM

    PTI slogan is Justice, Humanity, Self Esteem. Imran Khan is fulfilling his promises to the people. Now my believe in Naya Pakistan is getting more strong.


  • RizwanKhan
    Aug 29, 2013 - 1:21PM

    Great work.Recommend

  • Bill
    Aug 29, 2013 - 2:02PM

    handled nearly 30 cases


    I would say Great, amazing performance in just beginning, Love you KP Govt


  • Aug 29, 2013 - 3:23PM

    Dear Sirs,

    The delivery of justice either by Bus or by Aeroplane reinforces the lawful authority of the “STATE of Pakistan”. Every citizen of Pakistan must learn how to obey the law and show respect to the law inforcement authorities. This is what our beloved leader Quid-i-Azam
    preached in every speech. His everlasting words are always in my mind ie discipline, unity and faith.
    Pakistan can make speedy progress if there is peace and transquility among the masses.
    To achieve these ends, we must eliminate fire arms and cancel all issued licences in the entire country. Arms are only for the police to keep not the citizen.
    Taking right initiatives in changing times is vital to prosperity and progress.

    I wish you best of luck. Thank you.


  • Faizullah
    Aug 29, 2013 - 3:42PM

    Weldon PTI. you are the HOPE


  • Syed
    Aug 29, 2013 - 5:47PM

    expensive though.


  • Aug 29, 2013 - 8:05PM

    what an idea sir ji…!


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