Improving access to justice

The Lahore High Court’s recent decision to move more cases to its Rawalpindi and Multan benches is a welcome effort to increase the ease of access to justice for millions of residents of Punjab who earlier had to travel for as much as six or seven hours from Mianwali and Bhakkar, respectively, to get to the court’s principal seat in Lahore. The burden was even greater on poor litigants, whose choice was to either travel for essentially a whole day to get to and from the principal seat and their hometowns, or arrange to spend the night in Lahore. Reducing travel time allows most litigants to make round trips from most areas in less than half a day, meaning they could probably travel in both directions on the same day without significant hardship.

High courts should actively examine ways to make it easier for litigants to approach the court by assigning districts to the nearest registries to districts based on ease of travel. In many cases, including those of Mianwali and Bhakkar, improvements in road infrastructure have made the old jurisdiction maps outdated. Khushab, for example, is also slightly closer to Rawalpindi than Lahore, and some such cases also occur in other provinces. The court administrations should also examine previous proposals to open a few new benches. A previous rejected proposal from lawyers called for four new LHC benches. Not only was this a bit much, but three of the districts would probably not significantly improve ease of access for citizens outside of the districts themselves. But the province could certainly do with at least one new bench in the fourth suggestion, Faisalabad, which is a large city in its own right and is ideally located to improve access from central Punjab districts that are relatively far from both Rawalpindi and Lahore.

While it is also important to avoid unnecessarily burdening the exchequer with new benches if they cannot absorb a justifiable caseload, all of the provincial high courts, but especially Balochistan, would benefit from adding one new bench each.

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