Litigants are the ultimate stakeholders in any justice system. Yet seemingly they are the most neglected subjects of our justice system. They pay through taxes and fee to get justice from courts of law. People have always sacrificed for the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary. However, when it comes to the protection of their legal rights, they suffer a lot. Litigants have to take care of self-security and bear enormous expenses to reach the doors of justice. Years after years are spent until cases are finally heard and decided. Social barriers and taboos further make access to justice a challenge in Pakistan.
The issues of litigants can be broadly divided into two kinds: formal and informal hardships.
Formal difficulties involve inability of litigants to understand the language of law and the cost and delay in getting justice. Article 251 of the Constitution provides that, “The National language of Pakistan is Urdu, and arrangements shall be made for its being used for official and other purposes…” Section 558 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898, and Section 137 of the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908, authorises provincial governments to decide the language of the courts. Despite, the language of our courts remains English. It makes the understanding of the pleadings and orders of the court difficult. Ignorance of the law is quoted as no excuse even as a large portion of our population is unable to understand the language of the law. Given these difficulties, the constitutional promise of ‘inexpensive and expeditious justice’ remains merely a dream.
Access to justice, particularly for women, children, minorities, and the fragile segment of our society needs the attention of the relevant stakeholders
Social barriers include the issues of the security of life, bureaucratic influence, and under-regulated legal institutions. In family cases, for example, women and children have to go to great length against their family members. Claiming legal rights, sometimes, offends the so-called ego and dignity of the family. So, women often have to compromise on their rights for the sake of the family. Frivolous civil cases, criminal complaints and FIRs, harassment, violence, social boycott and even threat and extinction of life are commonly used to silence those who insist to claim their legal rights. The life of complainant and witnesses is always at risk in criminal cases.
Thus, access to justice, particularly for women, children, minorities, and the fragile segment of our society needs the attention of the relevant stakeholders. In this regard, the laws should be translated in Urdu and other local languages and be made available in public libraries, union councils, educational institutions, courts and on social media platforms. As per the constitution, arrangements should be made for using the Urdu language for official purposes. The colonial laws created to subjugate the people must be changed. Media should educate the people about their basic rights such as the right to life, liberty, and the dignity of man. The complainants and witnesses could be provided with state protection. State sponsored legal aid programme be introduced enabling poor litigants to pursue their cases.
The legal ethics for lawyers and the code of conduct for judges need to be enforced in letter and spirit. The relationship between a lawyer and a client is that of confidence and trust. The lawyers are obliged to protect the rights, communication and reputation of their clients. The lawyers must know the law and provide accurate advice to litigants. The case of clients has to be defended professionally. At the same time, being officers of the court, the lawyers are supposed to assist the court in reaching a just decision. Misleading or misrepresenting by anyone before the courts of law is perjury. In any case, the cause of justice must prevail over any other consideration.
Censuring in open courts damages institutional decorum. The judges should speak through their judgments. The lawyers are expected to behave respectfully with case parties, witnesses, and public officials as they are ambassadors of justice and the torchbearer of the rule of law. Patience, forbearance and grace are the cannons of legal ethics. If a litigant distrust on a court of law, his case must be transferred to another court. If a client is dissatisfied with a lawyer, s/he has every right to engage another counsel.
Finally, to audit the overall performance of our justice system, a perception survey of litigants may be conducted occasionally to collect feedback of the users of our justice system. These findings can be used by the bar councils to improve the professional conduct of lawyers and the provision of legal service. The judiciary may utilize this information for the judicial policymaking and judicial reforms.
Briefly, our constitution ensures inexpensive and expeditious justice to the people. Thus, State needs to ensure the delivery of justice. In other words, the voice of litigants must be duly heard.
The writer is an advocate in the Supreme Court of Pakistan