DESPITE earnest efforts by their lordships to bring down the number of cases pending decision across all tiers of the justice system in Pakistan, the backlog remains considerable. As reported in this paper, over 2m cases are pending decision across the country. It is not that cases are not being heard and decided; the problem appears to be the large number of new cases filed that result in a ballooning backlog. While over 12,800 cases were decided by the Supreme Court last year, over 18,000 new cases were filed before the apex court. And while the provincial and Islamabad high courts also have to deal with a significant caseload, it is at the level of the lower judiciary where the backlog is greatest, particularly in Punjab. While 2.9m cases were decided in Pakistan`s largest province, 2.8m fresh litigations were filed.
Several attempts have been made to address this persistent problem affecting the quality of justice delivered to litigants. These include the National Judicial Policy of 2009, which emphasised the need to reduce the pendency of cases before the nation`s courts.
However, these efforts don`t seem to have had the desired effect on reducing the caseload. Legal experts have cited the need to increase the number of judges to hear cases. There is also a need to improve infrastructure, such as building more courtrooms that can accommodate a higher number of judges. Other attempts to streamline the justice system have included setting up `model courts`, while anti-terrorism courts established 25 years ago were supposed to decide cases in seven days; in fact, many highprofile terrorism cases have lasted for years. Perhaps along with increasing the number of judicial staffers, alternative dispute resolution mechanisms, such as arbitration and mediation, can also be employed, especially when dealing with civil cases at the lower judiciary`s level. Moreover, the trend of filing frivolous cases by habitual litigants, and the granting of endless adjournments, must be discouraged, with courts penalising those who waste the judiciary`s time, and delay cases without cause. Of course, the matter of clearing the backlog must be pursued at the highest level; each holder of the position of chief justice of Pakistan should consider it a priority in their tenure to reduce the caseload. Having to wait years, or even decades, for a decision is against natural justice, as litigants have a right to a speedy and fair trial.