Mr. Khalid Jawed Khan, Attorney General for Pakistan;
Mr. Abid Saqi, Vice Chairman, Pakistan Bar Council;
Syed Qalb e Hassan Shah, President, Supreme Court Bar Association;
Advocates-General of the Provinces and the Islamabad Capital Territory;
Prosecutors-General of the Provinces;
Law Officers and Members of the Bar at the Principal Seat and all the Branch Registries of this Court;
Ladies and gentlemen:
At the opening of the new judicial year, I extend a warm welcome to all of you on my own behalf and on behalf of my brother judges. I am honoured to address this distinguished gathering, which comprising some of the finest brains of the legal fraternity.
This occasion holds great significance as it provides us with an opportunity to scrutinize our past performance, celebrate our successes, discover our shortcomings and ascertain the reasons thereof, set new goals and devise new policies to achieve such goals. We have had the opportunity to listen to the views of the learned Attorney General for Pakistan, who represents the Executive, as well as the Vice Chairman, Pakistan Bar Council and the President, Supreme Court Bar Association. They have not only analyzed the system of administration of justice but have also shared their views and provide valuable suggestions on how to improve the functioning of the judiciary.
Before I highlight the performance of the judiciary, in general and Supreme Court, in particular, I must say that due to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, this year has been, and I believe that most of you will agree, one of the most challenging in our history. Besides, having been faced with other challenges, like, delay in disposal of cases, the pandemic posed a severe, unseen and intricate challenge to the Court’s ability to function. In the circumstances, we had to take wise and considerate decisions. Chief amongst which was whether the Court should remain open. Indeed, many, if not most, Courts around the world choose to shut themselves off from the public.
Indeed, the pendency of cases and the difficulties being faced by the people to have their cases decided at the earliest, weighed heavily on our minds as we considered a plan of action. We decided that while it was true that the risks associated with remaining open during in the time of COVID-19 were considerable, the costs of closing down were far greater. Thus, it was our view, that it would be imprudent to completely shutter our courtrooms. Instead, we implemented comprehensive policies to ensure that the business of this Court continued apace.
Due to the outbreak of COVID-19, the Federal as well as Provincial Governments imposed partial or complete lockdowns and thus, it was not possible for ordinary litigants to file cases within the prescribed limitation period. In the circumstances, all the Institution Branches of the Supreme Court, at Main Registry Islamabad as well as at the Branch Registries, continued functioning, while observing various safety protocols. However, to provide relief to litigants, who were unable to file their cases in time due to curtailment of movement and non-availability or scarcity of means of transportation, recourse was made to Article 191 of the Constitution of 1973 read with Order II Rule 1 and Order XXX111 Rules 1, 3, 4 & 6 of the Supreme Court Rules, 1980, and Section 4 of the Limitation Act, 1908, in that, it was notified that with reference to Section 4 of the Limitation Act, for the purpose of calculation of period of limitation, the Institution Branch of the Supreme Court, at the Principal Seat and the Branch Registries, shall be deemed to be closed from 22nd March, 2020 till 21st April, 2020. This period of deemed closure was extended from time to time till 31st of May, 2020. Many other notifications were issued whereby it was ensured that the safety protocols issued by the Government, including social distancing within the court premises are followed.
Justice, ladies and gentlemen, must, after all, continue to be served. Indeed, this Court has in the past been faced with challenges that have seemed insurmountable; yet, we persevered and ensured that the people have always access to justice. I am quite satisfied to say that, this time too, we have lived up to our grand tradition. The Court, despite the challenges posed by COVID-19 has managed to continue striving for the people of Pakistan.
Even the tradition of summer vacations could not keep the Court to foster justice. Though the summer vacations were notified this year too, however, the Court continued to function throughout. The only aim was to ensure timely relief to the litigants and reduction of the backlog of cases.
Ladies and gentlemen!
Justice is not only the foundation of every civilized society but also one of the fundamentals of Islam as envisaged by the Holy Quran and Sunnah. Justice is not merely the determination of the rights of the public according to the law but to ensure equality before the law. Everyone must be treated equally under the law regardless of gender, race, religion or colour, etc. Our Constitution guarantees equality before law and equal protection of law.
We may ask ourselves why is it that the Courts are so very important for the functioning of our Constitutional system. Why is it, that it is the Courts that are tasked with protecting the people’s basic and fundamental rights. I believe the answer to these questions lies in the very simple fact that ours is a government of laws, not of men. Yet, laws, on their own, are of little use.
Justice cannot be delivered and fundamental rights of the people cannot be protected unless the Judges are fully independent and under no external pressure. The Constitution mandates in its Preamble that the independence of the judiciary shall be fully secured. Under the Constitution and the law, no one is allowed to undermine the independence of judiciary.
Every judge of the superior Judiciary is under solemn oath, inter alia, to discharge the duties honestly to the best of his ability and faithfully in accordance with the Constitution and the law, and, in all circumstances, to do right to all manner of people, according to law, without fear or favour, affection or ill-will. I must say that it is not only a privilege to be a Judge but a heavy duty is cast upon Judges, even under the oath, to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution, and not allow their personal interest to influence the official conduct or official decisions.
Since I took over as Chief Justice of Pakistan, I found that the biggest challenge faced by our judicial system is the backlog of cases. In order to reduce the pendency of cases, various decisions were taken. These measures have not only proved beneficial for the smooth functioning of the Court but the litigants are also benefiting from the same.
It was observed that main contributory factor towards the delay in disposal of cases was adjournments. One of the causes for adjournments was that the Advocates at time were not able to reach the Court at Islamabad on account of their personal reasons, including, the engagements at their own station. In order to overcome this problem and to provide expeditious and inexpensive justice to the litigants, the cases were heard through e-Court system. Initially, the facility of video-link connectivity was available only at Branch Registry Karachi, but it was extended to all the Branch Registries. I personally headed various Benches which regularly conducted the proceedings of cases through e-Court system at the Principal seat, Islamabad and the Branch Registries. Considering that it was difficult for the Advocates and litigants to come all the way from Quetta and as due to COVID-19, it was not possible to constitute Benches at Quetta, I decided to hear cases pending at Quetta through video-link at Main Registry Islamabad. The video-link facility will continue to benefit lawyers and litigants in saving their time and money. I expect that the IT Committee of this Court, headed by Hon’ble Mr. Justice Mushir Alam and comprising Hon’ble Mr. Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah, with the assistance of the IT staff will continue its efforts to improve the e-Court system.
Coming to the overall institution and disposal of cases in this Court, it would be appropriate to bifurcate the previous year in to two phases that are pre COVID-19 and post COVID-19. At the beginning of the judicial year, total 42138 cases were pending. During the pre COVID-19 period, about 8817 fresh cases were instituted while about 6752 cases were decided. During post COVID-19 period, 7046 cases were filed while 5792 cases were decided, leaving the closing balance of 45455 cases. As already mentioned, with the zeal to clear the backlog of cases, judges volunteered to forego most of their vacations and continued to perform their duties. By adopting such measures, about 12544 cases were disposed of during the previous judicial year. I must say that the effect of COVID-19 was enormous and despite our best efforts to reduce the backlog of cases, the number of pending cases has increased slightly. However, when the intensity of COVID-19 was reduced in Pakistan in one month of August, 2020, the rate of disposal of cases increased, that is, against institution of 691 cases, 1076 cases were decided, and I am confident that in coming months, the pattern will continue and the rate of disposal shall increase further.
The effect of COVID-19 was gigantic. Besides hampering the free movement of the people and having great financial impact, it also resulted in cancellation of almost all the Activities. Continuous interaction between the Bench and the Bar is necessary for the improvement of justice system. The participation of Chief Justice and the Judges of superior Judiciary in the functions arranged by the Bar Councils and Bar Associations play a pivotal role in this regard. It provides an opportunity of sharing the views and highlighting the problems being faced and suggestions to overcome such difficulties. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19 many functions were cancelled or postponed. Thus, many opportunities to interact with the Bar were denied. Besides, many foreign visits to participate in the various conferences and events were also cancelled.
Since long Human Rights Cell is functioning in the Supreme Court. Although very few fresh complaints were entertained but the already pending cases were regularly heard in Court and appropriate orders passed to ensure the protection of fundamental rights of the people.
The progress of institutions is directly related to and depends upon, the research work that they undertake. Credible research helps improving the quality of outcome and thus, it is more essential for the institution of judiciary. Besides, permanent Research Officers appointed with the senior Judges of this Court, a Research Centre had been established at the Supreme Court. The Centre has issued brief periodic newsletters reviewing the case law.
With the vision to overcome the issue of protracted litigation, the Model Courts have been established throughout Pakistan, which conduct and conclude trials of criminal as well as civil cases in few months rather than years. During the pre COVID-19 period, that is, 01.09.2019 till 29.02.2020, in 153 working days, 173 Model Criminal Trial Courts decided 21553 Murder and Narcotic cases. During this period, 152 Model Trial Magistrate Courts decided 61795 and 119 Model Civil Appellate Courts decided 33502 cases. In this way, total 444 Modal Courts, in all, decided massive number of 116,850 (one hundred sixteen thousand eight hundred fifty) cases in just 153 days. The COVID-19 has also hampered the progress of Model Courts. During the period from 01.03.2020 to 11.09.2020, 437 Modal courts could decide total 16487 cases in about 154 days.
The Law and Justice Commission of Pakistan (LJCP) operates as a bridge between the Judiciary and the Executive, being a Federal Government institution, headed by the Chief Justice of Pakistan and comprising other members, including, the Chief Justice of Federal Shariat Court, Chief Justices of the High Courts, Attorney General for Pakistan, Secretary, Ministry of Law, Justice and Human Rights and the Chairperson of National Commission on the Status of Women. The Commission has approved many reports and prepared research papers suggesting reforms on a variety of laws, which are under consideration by the Government at various levels.
Two meetings of National Judicial Policy Making Committee were held on 29th February, 2020 and 19th March, 2020, which were chaired by me, wherein various issues were considered and after detailed deliberations, decisions were taken to overcome the problems being faced by the Judiciary. Besides, two meetings of the National Judicial Automation Committee, three meetings of service rules sub-committee and two meetings of technical core group were held.
To discuss the Judicial training for effective Transformation of Judiciary, Establishment of Commercial Courts and supporting legal & Institutional framework, the initial meeting was held on 21st May, 2020 under the Chairmanship of the Mr. Justice Mushir Alam and attended by Mr. Justice Yahya Afridi. Later, to discuss the working of three core groups, that is, Automation of Judiciary; Training Programs; Establishment of Commercial Dispute Resolution, a virtual meeting was held on 24th June, 2020. A Training Workshop for District Commercial Court Judges was organized by the Punjab Judicial Academy from 7th to 11th of September, 2020. I myself attended the closing ceremony of the same.
Federal Judicial Academy (FJA) works under its statutory mandate for improvement in justice system and quality of justice administered by the courts. Being the Chairman of FJA, I have opportunity to supervise its functioning and prepare new policies. FJA is actively pursuing its vision and mission in imparting continuing judicial education par excellence. Linkages have been developed with number of training institutions and discussions for collaboration are underway with UN and other development agencies.
Ladies and gentlemen!
The role of Bar in the administration of justice cannot be overlooked. The Bar has always extended its full cooperation and support to the cause of justice. Most of the learned counsel have responded to our policy of discouraging the unnecessary adjournments in a positive manner. They come prepared with briefs and never seek adjournments, except for unavoidable circumstances.
I must admit here that the lawyers have exhibited the highest standards of professionalism and courage, choosing to represent their clients and appear before the Court despite the risk of COVID-19. Of course, we still have a long way to go before we can lay claim to being where we hope to be. But the dedication and perseverance on display by the Bar and the Bench is admirable and worthy of our appreciation. I expect the Bar to continue to extend their cooperation to the Bench.
I would like to conclude with an assurance that in the times to come, the judiciary at all levels shall continue to strive to uphold the supremacy of the Constitution, to foster justice in all circumstances and to ensure rule of law in the country. I thank you once again for participating in this event.