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Justice for All [2005] ADBLPRes 10 (1 May 2005)

Justice for All

ADB Review [ May 2005 ]

Justice system reforms in Pakistan are helping strengthen legal protection for all—particularly the poor and vulnerable—and reduce delays in court

By Raza Ahmad, (
Project Officer (Governance)

Pakistan’s Access to Justice Program (AJP) is helping improve the quality of laws and institutions administering justice, their public accountability, and performance.

The program—assisted by the Asian Development Bank (ADB)—focuses on judicial and police reforms to provide security and ensure that people have equal protection under the law. It aims to secure and sustain entitlements and reduce the poor’s vulnerability, strengthen state institutions, and create conditions conducive to pro-poor growth, especially by fostering investor confidence.

ADB’s $350 million assistance package to the AJP—launched in December 2001 and being implemented by the Ministry of Law, Justice, and Human Rights and 29 federal and provincial agencies, including courts, ombudsmen, and the police—comprises a $20 million technical assistance loan for institutional development and a $25 million endowment to finance the Access to Justice Development Fund. Of the remaining $305 million, the provinces can access up to 60% ($183 million) of the resources for justice sector investments and reforms.

The AJP, in seeking to mobilize and strengthen reforms within the justice sector, promotes general legal empowerment; public access to well-organized courts with an efficient case-management system; improved working conditions for the district judiciary and lawyers; and enabling conditions for litigants and prisoners at trial.

ADB is also supporting the AJP with a complementary $300 million Decentralization Support Program approved in November 2002, and other ADB technical assistance projects in respect of governmentnongovernment relations, devolution, gender and governance mainstreaming, and a police-reform pilot project. ADB’s Pakistan Resident Mission Governance Unit manages the strategic governance agenda, and undertakes ongoing policy dialogue with the Government and civil society.

Since 2002, the AJP has helped create an enabling legal and policy framework. The devolution of powers through the promulgation of local government ordinances in 2001 and the replacement of the 1861 Police Order with new legislation in 2002 are central to this process.

Reducing Delays in Courts

In 2002, the Government established a National Judicial Policy-Making Committee, which provided a statutory basis for a national judicial policy centered on reducing delays in the courts.

The Law and Justice Commission was reorganized and its mandate expanded, providing for legal empowerment as a state commitment.

Family laws were amended to enable courts to be gender sensitive, and a freedom of information ordinance, recognizing access to information as a citizen’s basic right, was promulgated.

Legislation provided for special courts to deal with “small cases” in each district as low-cost and effective justice services to the poor; and the amended civil procedure now empowers a court to call for alternative dispute resolution at any time during a trial.

Most cases involving administration of justice are now reviewed by district courts. Initiatives to reduce delays, piloted initially in 10 district courts, are now being replicated in the entire North-West Frontier Province and are helping clear court backlogs.

The number of criminal cases pending has declined in the North-West Frontier Province from more than 130,000 cases in 2001 to less than 108,000 in 2003. In AJP focal districts of Peshawar, Dera Ismail Khan, and Abbotabad, pending cases in criminal proceedings have dropped by 58%, 63.7%, and 65.2%, respectively. A review of internal accountability units called member inspection teams in the high courts also indicates improvements, the most markedly of which are in the North-West Frontier Province and Lahore high courts.

The National Judicial Policy-Making Committee, concerned with the district judiciary’s working conditions, recommended increasing the monthly judicial emoluments (in some cases linked to performance) by 40% from September 2004 and decided to recruit all district judiciary staff through the provincial public service commission.

The Government is also improving the regulation of common property resources by increasing the number of environmental tribunals, ensuring at least one tribunal for each province. These tribunals will be strengthened by the development of case law for fast and effective adjudication.

Encouraging Women to Join Bench

he AJP promotes gender equality and includes measures to sensitize people to gender issues through research and debate. The Ministry of Law’s affirmative action policy of August 2004 will help ensure increased participation by women in the legal and judicial professions.

Falling budget allocations in the past decade have been key in the poor level of police and judicial services. The AJP supports greater resource allocation to the provincial high courts, session courts, and civil courts with the help of counterpart funds available from the program. Spending by provincial governments has risen in sectors covered by the AJP. In aggregate terms, provincial allocations have increased by 45% in fiscal year (FY)2003–2004 vis-àvis FY2002–2003 based on revised estimates, with the increase largest in Punjab.

More than $25 million was released to the provinces during 2002–2004 for total of 432 schemes: new court complexes (159); judges’ residences (111); capacity-building initiatives (22); construction of barracks and jails (83); and the police, district public safety commissions, prosecution services, provincial ombudsmen, and law departments (57).

Police reforms initiated in 2001 and 2002 have helped establish key citizen oversight and accountability bodies, such as district public safety commissions, district criminal justice coordination committees, and—in all provinces—the creation of citizen-police liaison committees.

All provinces now have phased plans indicating the legislation, human resources, and budgets required to establish an independent prosecution service. One area still requiring attention, however, is the internal accountability of the police.

Consumer Protection Enhanced

The AJP has also prompted improvements at the policy level, such as the enactment of consumer protection laws in three of four provinces.

Other gains have been the provincial governments’ willingness to establish district ombudsman services; the high courts’ designation of existing courts as forums for grievances against public servants; and at the local level, the legal framework’s provision for access to information, and involvement of citizens in monitoring committees—an integral part of the local government system—to check executive decisions and practices.

As part of the A JP, the Government will establish centers of excellence in legal education, with the Higher Education Commission as the driver of reforms. Financial and technical assistance to participating law colleges will be contingent on reforms in internal governance, faculty development, clinical legal education, examination, curricula, and accreditation of the centers to sustain reforms—AJP funds of $5 million will support this in the first phase.

The centers’ law clinics will help improve the legal skills of students who, in turn, will help poor clients who are unable to pay for legal services. The first law clinic has been established at the University of Peshawar with the collaboration of the leading nongovernment organization, Aurat Foundation, under an ADB regional technical assistance, Partnerships for Poverty Reduction.

The Government is also helping publish laws in local languages in two provinces, and law departments in two more provinces are publishing simple explanations of laws. The Law and Justice Commission periodically publishes simple explanations of laws in Urdu.

The AJP must overcome a legacy of difficult relations between the executive and the judiciary to which, with the return to representative rule after the October 2002 elections, have been added representatives of the federal and provincial legislatures.

A key constraint has been the absence of provincial management support. At the federal level, the Ministry of Law’s lack of capacity has resulted in challenges to reform leadership.

The international community, especially bilateral partners, such as the Government of the Netherlands and the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID), has expressed confidence in the Government’s willingness to reform by committing resources to cofinance AJP operations.

DFID has committed $40 million to help finance governance reforms supporting devolution and access to justice through ADB programs.

ADB has set the standard for financing justice sector reforms that earlier were not considered relevant to poverty reduction strategies. This will be AJP’s most crucial and long-lasting outcome.

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