The Senate created history recently when it took up as a ‘committee of the whole house’ the intricate and thorny subject of judicial system in order to propose a set of reforms for provision of speedy and inexpensive justice to all segments of the society.
According to a notice of the Senate Secretariat, the agenda before the committee is identification of major areas of policy reform and concrete steps for provision of inexpensive and speedy justice. It also includes finalisation of a list of organizations, resource persons, experts and representative bodies to be invited for future meetings or deliberations.
Several senators described the overall judicial system in Pakistan as just another oppressive force rather than an institution that provides justice, as the house committee met here at the Parliament House and began first of the series of marathon meetings under its Chairman Mian Raza Rabbani. It will furnish its report within three months.
The committee (Senate) will conduct business only when there is quorum and it will have powers to summon any person for questioning or ask for any government record to help it. Rule 172-A added to the Rule of Procedure and Conduct of Business in the Senate, 2012, April this year clearly states: “The committee shall have power to require the attendance of any person or summon production of papers, records from any division, department, autonomous body, semi-autonomous body or organization, or examine such persons on oath or solemn affirmation, or invite or summon any person to give evidence in relation to any matter under its consideration.”
Under the rule, “The house may constitute itself into a committee of the whole on a motion by the leader of the house or leader of the opposition. When the house constitutes itself into a committee of the whole, it functions as one committee acting upon any matter(s) referred to by the house and conducts its proceedings like a regular committee with its membership composed of all members of the house.”
A motion was moved by the MQM Senator Col (R) Syed Tahir Hussain Mashhadi on speedy and inexpensive justice in the country and this followed an absorbing debate during which the senators demanded referring of the motion to either standing committee or a special committee be formed.
Justice (R) Muhammad Raza Khan, Special Secretary Ministry for Law and Justice gave a detailed briefing to the senators about the steps taken by the government for providing speedy justice to the people, saying a legal reforms committee of the prime minister had submitted a detailed report to the premier.
He pointed out that a number of measures were being taken to overcome the pendency of cases in different courts, which was a great challenge at present.He said the performance of Federal Ombudsman had improved as it decided matters related to public importance within a specific period of time.
The forum finalized a list of organizations, resource persons, experts and representative bodies to be invited for future meetings and deliberations.The resource persons include former chief justice Supreme Court of Pakistan Justice (R) Tasaduq Hussain Jillani, Justice (R) Nasira Iqbal, Wasim Sajjad, SM Zafar, Farooq H Naek, Justice Nasir Aslam Zahid, Justice (R) Mian Ajmal, Asma Jehangir, John Alexander William.
Moreover, four bar associations of the country as well as Islamabad High Court Bar Association would also be invited to the meeting.
The representative of Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), high court bar councils and Supreme Court Bar Associations will give their recommendation by July 15.The Law and Justice Commission of Pakistan, National Commission on Status of Women (NCSW), Islamabad Bar Council and Gilgit-Baltistan Bar Council will also give their recommendations.
The general public has also been asked to submit their recommendation by July 15 through a public petitions drop place outside Senate secretariat.In his views, Senator Farhatullah Babar called for legislation to bring intelligence agencies within the ambit of the law to provide some justice to the victims of forcibly disappeared persons in which these agencies had been roundly accused of involvement.
Babar claimed that there was no avenue for provision of justice to missing persons in Balochistan, Karachi, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Fata, adding any talk of speedy justice would be meaningless unless this aspect was addressed, as there was no window for justice regardless of whether the accused had tonnes of money and ample time to seek it.
According to the Commission on Enforced Disappearances, he pointed out, sufficient evidence existed that agencies had apprehended a number of missing persons. He said the previous government went far and enacted action in aid of civil power to give legal protection to the agencies to produce missing persons who had disappeared in the past.
“Even this extraordinary gesture had failed to arrest the problem which still persisted…we gambled in giving legal protection to the agencies for past disappearances but failed both in stopping enforced disappearances and in opening for them avenues of justice,” Babar maintained.
The Supreme Court, he noted, had also observed from time to time that the functioning of the agencies must be regulated by law. He said in March 2012 both the National Assembly and Senate passed unanimous resolutions calling for legislation to address the issue.
Babar also proposed the constitution of three sub-committees of the whole house to give reports separately on legislative, judicial and administrative police reforms for ensuring speedy and inexpensive justice.
“The sub committees should prioritize only a few critical reforms in the selected areas which should be easy for the Senate to pursue implementation with the government. I’m afraid to say that pursuing too heavy and too ambitious legal reforms agenda, in the past, had only ended into the dustbin. Running too fast behind the best sometimes results in tumbling over the better”, he cautioned.
Senator Barrister Muhammad Ali Saif stresses good attitude by judiciary and said two basic areas – strategic intervention and legal reforms – needed to be done. He called for doing away with Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR), terming it a major impediment in providing justice to the people of Fata. Fata senators also called for abolition of FCR, saying they were unable to file a petition against the verdict of a tiny political agent, which was injustice to people of tribal areas.
On this, Rabbani assured them that the committee would look into the FCR and other legal issues faced by the people of Fata. He also proposed introduction of video proceedings in police stations to give an end to police highhandedness, saying it would be the first step in providing prompt justice to people. He called for legislation to make the judges accountable.
Lt Gen (R) Abdul Qayyum said the current judicial system in the country was completely flawed that needed to be revamped on war footing in order to ensure justice to people or else it would push the country towards further turmoil.He opposed handpicking people with tainted past as ombudsmen, adding the FIR must not be registered in absence of a magistrate.
JUI-F’s Maulana Attaur Rehman sounded concern over implementation of law, asking, who would bell the cat as there existed some finest law but the real issue had always been its implementation.
Usman Kakar from Balochistan said intelligence agencies and the judges of superior courts were never made accountable no matter how serious blunder they committed. The ruling PML-N’s Iqbal Zafar Jhagra called for giving protection to judges and the witnesses for quick disposal of cases, adding the legal system would improve unless parliament made concerted efforts to improve its performance.
Taking advantage of the meeting, lady Senators Khushbakht Shujaat, Kalsum Perveen, Rubina Irfan and others proposed special focus on legislation regarding issues faced by the womenfolk, especially the issue of divorce in which a women was harassed when she approaches for ‘Khula’.
Dr Ashok Kumar and Hari Ram Chand, and Giyan Chand, minority senators called for looking into the issues of minorities in the country, especially the marriage and separation of Hindu women, for which they said there existed no law.