Several attempts have been made by the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa government to put on its thinking cap and find shorter routes to lady justice.
Mobile courts or justice on wheels first made the news in 2012 when the then chief justice of Peshawar High Court (PHC) floated the idea. Eventually justice did try out its new wheels, but was forced to leave them in the lot after a bill to provide the mobile court legal cover received little attention from the K-P Assembly.
A similar fate was faced by the dispute resolution councils (DRC) at first. These were set up at police stations in January 2014 to allow for swift and cost-effective adjudication. These forums aimed to preserve the spirit of the traditional jirga and enjoyed the patronage of the police simultaneously.
Their legal standing was then raised at PHC. The court had written to the government in February, seeking an explanation after the media gave extensive coverage to these alternative dispute resolution (ADR) platforms and subsequently issued a stay over their functioning – a directive that will stay enforced till September 17.
Ground to stand on
On June 23, a rather controversial session at the assembly overshadowed that one bill was presented and another was passed which allowed for the controversy hovering over the mobile courts and DRCs to lift. The assembly passed the Establishment of Civil Mobile Court Bill 2015 and tabled the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Police Order (Amendment) Bill 2015.
The government is now preparing the ground to amend Police Order 2002 and provide legal cover to the DRCs that have already been constituted across the province. The draft has been tabled in the provincial legislature by the law, justice and parliamentary affairs department.
Article 168-A will be added to the aforementioned law. According to the article, once passed, the law will be renamed K-P Police Order (Amendment) Act 2015 and put into effect on a back date – January 1, 2014.
“The provincial police officer, for out of court amicable settlement of petty nature cases, may constitute DRCs at district, sub division or police station level, which shall consist of such number of members and shall conduct its business in such a manner as may be prescribed,” reads the article, a copy of which is available on the K-P government’s website.
The document adds the councils shall be deemed to have been validly constituted under the K-P Police Order (Amendment) Act 2015 and all actions taken, decisions made or directives issued by them shall also be deemed to have been validly taken, made or passed under the law.
The amendment bill describes “petty nature cases” to include “small, minor or of less importance or […]any cause pleading towards provocation which may lead to a criminal offence.”
Stay on DRCs
The stay came into effect on May 27 when a resident of Hayatabad approached the court over a DRC’s proceedings against him in a monetary dispute.
Petitioner Qaiser Khan claimed he was threatened by the council to pay up a disputed amount willingly, failing which he would be forced to do so. He said Hayatabad police frequented his house, asking him to appear before the DRC secretary.
He added the proceedings were illegal and the DRCs had no statutory backing and could neither replace the court of law nor enforce its own decisions.
Following the issuance of PHC directives, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf Chairman Imran Khan issued a statement against them.
“Imran expressed dismay over the stay order granted by the PHC against DRCs formed in K-P duting local police stations,” read a statement issued by the party on May 29. “For the PHC to give a stay order halting the functioning of these committees is undemocratic.”
The court issued Imran a show-cause notice to which he responded on June 18 saying, “I have the highest regard for the courts. I meant to say efforts will be made to request the court to vacate the interim order.” The PTI supremo added his comments were taken out of context.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 13th, 2015.