By Aamir Masood
ISLAMABAD, Feb 28 (APP): An independent and virtuous judiciary is vital for democracy, governance, security, economic growth, and equity as it ensures the Rule of Law for all citizens, guarantees protection to the rights of law abiding citizens and serves as a shield against unruly groups or individual’s threat to any particular person, community, sect or religion.
One of the strongest aspects an independent judiciary owns is to ensure good governance which helps to establish a just, prosperous and well-balanced society.
Promotion of this culture in any state required frequent reforms of the system to meet the everyday requirement of justice and remedies to neglected and disadvantaged class. But, unfortunately in Pakistan, frequent promise of judicial reforms made by successive regimes for decades remained elusive.
The PTI government after coming into power bore the torch of reforms in judicial system and its successive initiatives provided a ray of hope for reformation of the old age judicial system.
It was the manifesto of the PTI to ensure provision of easy justice to the people, especially the weak segments of society. For implementation of manifesto, Prime Minister Imran Khan, on May 29, 2020, had constituted two committees headed by PM’s Adviser on Parliamentary Affairs Dr Babar Awan and Law Minister Farogh Naseem respectively to suggest constitutional reforms and look into the plight of women prisoners and recommend remedial steps for the purpose.
The mandate of the committees was to suggest constitutional reforms and devise a roadmap for implementation of these reforms.
The committee on constitutional reforms was directed to devise a roadmap for prompt implementation of reforms in the criminal justice system, police culture, registration of cases, investigation and prison system and the second committee was formed to suggest reforms for judicial system and women prisoners’ wellbeing.
Discussing the reforms introduced by the PTI government in past two years, Federal Law Minister Barrister Dr. Farogh Naseem said the ministry drafted state of art legislation, references, opinions and vetting. “The statute of Mutual Legal Assistance (MLA) was pending since last 10 years and previous governments had failed to enact legislation for a mutual legal assistance regime.”
He said the law ministry drafted the Mutual Legal Assistance law to provide legal support to the requesting state (foreign country) by executing necessary actions on its territory in criminal cases warranting shared assistance.
“The MLA would regulate the procedure for rendering and soliciting mutual legal assistance in criminal matters.”
He said the statute of inheritance law was also drafted by the ministry and passed by the Parliament to establish Succession Facilitation Units in collaboration with the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) for the issuance of letters of administration and succession certificates. “Earlier, this process used to take months but now it will take 15 days. Previously all the legal heirs had to be physically present at the courts, now even if legal heirs are absent, the Letters of Administration and Succession Certificates will be issued.”
Furthermore, he said, connecting the NADRA database to all foreign missions, Pakistanis or their legal heirs abroad will be able to get their Letters of Administration or Succession Certificates processed from abroad without the need of being physically present in Pakistan or appearing before the Pakistani Courts. “It will save lot of expense and time of applicants and mitigate burden on the courts.”
Before the amendment, the courts were issuing the letters of administration and succession certificates under the Succession Act, 1925, Farogh Naseem noted. “The system developed now with NADRA’s assistance would make overseas Pakistanis to obtain Letters of Administration and Succession Certificates at Missions Abroad.
He said legislation for the protection of women is the most significant achievement as enforcement of Women’s Property Rights Act, 2020 is a vital piece of legislation and protects women from depriving them of inherited property. “The Act will empower Ombudsman to take action in cases where women are deprived of their legal right to acquire and possess property.”
The government has also introduced Legal Aid and Justice Authority Act, 2020 to provide financial and legal aid to women and children in criminal cases. Another major step is for fighting gender based violence is the Anti-Rape (Investigation and Trial), Ordinance, 2020 promulgated along with Criminal Law (Amendment) Ordinance, 2020 to ensure expeditious redressal of rape and sexual abuse crimes. Special investigation teams and special courts for speedy trial on women and children related cases are being planned.
Major legislation of the PTI tenure include the Anti-Money Laundering (Amendment) Act, 2020; the Code of Civil Procedure (Amendment) Act, 2020; the Letters of Administration and Succession Certificates Act, 2020; the promulgation of the COVID-19 (Prevention of Hoarding) Ordinance, 2020 and the COVID-19 (Prevention of Smuggling) Ordinance, 2020.
Senior Advocate Supreme Court Zulifqar Ahmed Bhutta said MLA is an important piece of legislation enacted by the present government. “Earlier, there was no law to collect evidence from abroad for a crime committed in Pakistan. After the MLA, the government can seek evidence from a country against an offence committed in Pakistan and conspired abroad. It is remarkable achievement.”
He also appreciated Enforcement of Woman’s Property Rights Bill, 2020 to protect and secure rights of ownership of woman in property. “Over the decades, women were deprived of property. Now, the Ombudsman would be deployed to decide such cases in three months instead of years as per previous practice. The Supreme Court in recent judgments had also abolished limitation period in such cases.”
Bhutta said the other good initiative is Administration and Succession Certificates Act, 2019.
Law ministry and NADRA have collaborated to devise a system where the succession certificates and letters of administration will be now issued in 15 days instead of months or years.“These are the positive initiatives and would prove to be beneficial for all citizens.”
According to the Law and Justice Commission of Pakistan (LJCP), there are 47,377 cases pending with the Supreme Court, more than 300,000 with the five high courts and above 2,000,000 with the subordinate judiciary of the four provinces and the federal capital.
The Supreme Court has also made it clear that as per the constitution, access to justice is a fundamental right of the citizens. In April 2019, Former Chief Justice of Pakistan Asif Saeed Khosa had setup 110 model courts all over the country to deal with murder and narcotics cases conducting daily trials to provide speedy justice to public and reduce massive backlog.
The cost of litigation has also decreased because of the expeditious disposal of cases. These model courts are being considered a silent revolution in the judicial history wherein murder trials pending for years are being concluded in the short span of time.