The world’s history is replete with such frightening stories that whenever the established legal judicial system of a country dismally failed to deliver speedy and timely justice, a slew of illegal courts were established by assorted religious, social and criminal groups to dispense unconstitutional justice so as to attain maximum ideological, political and socio-economic influence and objectives.
The courts set up in Lahore by the Jamaatud Dawa (JuD), an organisation placed on the terrorism watch-list by a number of international organisations and apparently by our own authorities, under the nose of Punjab government clearly reflect the same grim and dismal failure of the country’s judicial system in terms of delivering opportune and free justice. The apparent vacuum left by the government in terms of providing justice to the people has emboldened the JuD to take this unauthorized, disturbing and menacing action to establish its own courts.
The courts, named as the Darul Qaza Shariat, have been freely engaged in hearing and resolving cases since 1990. Since then, more than 5,500 domestic, financial and murder cases have been solved, and the final verdicts of the courts were stringently enforced by the “staunch adherents and followers” of the JuD. What is ominous and alarming is that these illegal courts are openly working in seven cities across Punjab, including its capital, Lahore, the center of educational institutions, excellence and knowledge in the country.
This is not the first time that such illegitimate courts have been set up to expand one’s “unconstitutional sphere of influence” and increase tentacles throughout the country. Back to the time of Sufi Muhammad, he overtly and blatantly challenged the writ of the government by establishing parallel courts in the terrorism-torn tribal areas meant to deal with all kinds of disputes. A large number of innocent people in the tribal areas were reportedly sentenced to severe punishments by these courts under the control of armed terrorists, religious bigots and militants.
Moreover, the feudal-dominated panchayats in far-flung towns and villages of all the four federating units are also living examples and grim pictures of the country’s failed judicial system. Such panchayats are largely dominated by sardars and chaudharies, who use their considerable power and unchallengeable sway to settle political, social and economic vendettas with the rest of powerless villagers. Terrorism-stricken FATA is also adversely crippled with the same inhuman, discriminatory and insidious judicial system under the British-gifted black law, the Frontier Crimes Regulations (FCRs).
The burning question is: why do outlawed terrorists, militants, extremists, insurgents, feudal lords and other non-state actors establish such courts to bestow the disgruntled people with purported justice? To start with, the civilian government in the country has mostly lost its writ in large swaths of ungoverned lands in the country, including some parts of Lahore and other major cities.
Some of the office-bears from the legislative, the executive and the judicial bodies including the police ideologically, religiously and politically support non-state elements to erect both overt and covert courts, misguided-jihadist centers and torture cells anywhere in the country with impunity. For its religio-political and socio-economic interests, the civilian government has tacitly permitted JuD’s courts to operate for more than two decades.
Moreover, most of the poor, long-persecuted, less influential and ordinary people in the country unwittingly prefer such illegal courts to the existing officially permitted ones due to some entrenched and startling reasons. These underlying reasons include, inter alia, that our existing judicial system is highly torpid, extremely unreliable and burdened with a never-ending backlog of hundreds and thousands of pending cases. Those who look toward these sluggish courts for inexpensive justice have to wait for many years to hear the verdict of the court- and that also against them.
Apart from this, the monster of corruption and the embedded culture of give and take have mainly made the dispensation of justice rather elusive for the poor. Contrary to the bedrock of Islamic justice system, all experienced and competent lawyers charge exorbitant fees who, a poorly-paid, highly-taxed and insecure layman hardly afford to hire for his case. From the higher to lower judiciary, a large number of both lawyers and judges take handsome bribes to give final verdicts in favour of powerful criminals, lethally-armed militants and influential politicians. Where should an ordinary person go for seeking justice?
Prevailing insecurity and targeted killings of honest persons associated with the legal fraternity and witnesses have brought about some obstructive issues for the judiciary to function normally. The state has miserably failed to protect the life, family, honour and property of sincere lawyers and judges from the attacks of hardened criminals. The powerful criminals, politicians and other non-state actors frighten and gun down witnesses, judges and lawyers if the latter voice against the criminal and unconstitutional activities of the former.
The afore-mentioned issues plaguing the judicial system constitute just only a fraction of swelling issues faced by the same field. Due to such deep-rooted shortcomings, increasing loopholes, unconstitutional courts are set up by JuD and kinds to attract the disillusioned people for ideological, political and socio-economic objectives.
Presumably, if the incumbent government exercises more indifference and maintains its lingering irresponsibility in terms of plausibly reforming the unworkable judicial system, it is likely that more such potent and dominant religious, criminal, terrorist and insurgent groups would establish the same courts to further slow down the functions of the already snail-spaced and politicised justice system of the country.
Since the prevailing injustice has proved to be the main cause of socio-economic disparity, disruptive terrorism, militancy and separatism, the government should come out of its unfettered slumber to rationally reform the torpid, expensive, politicised and ineffectual judicial system.
The proposed measures should include increasing the number of judges and lawyers while fostering their competence and expertise in the field; providing reasonable salary and pension packages to them; prudently reforming the existing obsolete laws of criminal justice system; providing foolproof protection to judges, lawyers and witnesses and depoliticizing the legal fraternity from the hitherto unchallenged sway of powerful and wealthy politicians.