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Broken system, no reforms

Broken system, no reforms

OCCASIONALLY, high state functionaries do try and turn the spotlight on the chronic deficiencies of the state.

Unhappily, the diagnoses tend to be rooted more in emotion than pragmatism or structural reforms. Supreme Court Chief Justice Jawwad S. Khawaja has been using his short stint as the nation’s top judge to turn the focus on the needs of the people and why the state is failing the citizenry.

Know more: Gap between rulers, ruled deepening, says CJ

To his credit, in a speech over the weekend, Chief Justice Khawaja acknowledged that the judiciary itself has often failed the people over the decades, there being a lack of systematic and equal access to justice in the country.

The chief justice also admitted that the judiciary itself has ignored the task of reforms or even the gathering of basic data pertaining to the judiciary.

To change that — in the words of Chief Justice Khawaja, reduce the gap between the state and the people — the state will have to undergo deep reform.

As Chairman of the Senate Raza Rabbani’s comments in the same seminar underscored, it is not just the judiciary that has to reform; for the elected leaders to be more focused on the needs of the people, there has to be an emphasis on accountability too.

Yet, it is all too apparent that reforms form no part of the present government’s agenda. Certainly, the other institutions must also share some of the blame.

The superior judiciary, for example, has tried to position itself as a champion of the people, but it does so largely through the use of suo motu powers. In truth, suo motu powers — the superior judiciary’s ability to take up of its own accord matters impacting fundamental rights and the public interest — are a reflection of a system that is broken.

It is precisely because the average citizen does not expect to get justice at the lowest tiers of the state that he turns to the superior judiciary for help.

Curiously, the Supreme Court has appeared to encourage the trend of the public turning to it for help rather than trying to improve the dispensation of justice at the lower tiers.

To be sure, the Supreme Court cannot reform the judiciary by itself. That would require the legislative input of parliament and the assistance of the executive.

But neither has the Supreme Court, including the present chief justice, done much to try and build public interest in judicial reforms or try and make it a national priority.

Sadly, where the judiciary is lacking, parliament is failing doubly so. Senate Chairman Raza Rabbani talked of how accountability is deficient in the country — but what is preventing him and his colleagues in the Senate from making that a legislative priority?

The deference that parliament shows to the elected government needs to be reconsidered, especially when the government appears to have no legislative or reform agenda.

Published in Dawn, September 8th, 2015

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