SC grapples with unprecedented caseload

In Local
April 23, 2024


The Supreme Court finds itself grappling with an unprecedented caseload and a historic high in the country’s judicial history, with the backlog swelling over the past three months.

In the initial tenure of Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Qazi Faez Isa, the apex court witnessed a commendable reduction in pending cases during the first three months of his stewardship.

According to the SC’s quarterly report covering the period from September 17, 2023, to December 16, 2023, released by CJP Isa, the number of pending cases dipped from 56,503 to 55,644. This marked a notable decline of 859 cases during his initial three months in office.

However, the situation took a downturn in the subsequent three months. As per the fortnightly report, the total number of pending cases surged to 57,181 by March 31. Alarmingly, an additional 1,537 cases were added to the overall backlog during the first quarter of this year.This comes as the initial months of CJP Isa’s tenure were lauded for his internal institutional reforms, which garnered widespread appreciation and contributed to the reduction in total pending cases.

On the other hand, CJP Isa and the apex court face criticism for their January 13 ruling, which deemed the intra-party elections of PTI as illegal, stripping the party of its election symbol. Concerns have also been raised regarding the credibility of the general elections held on February 8.

Conversely, case data indicates that the performance of the apex court has been impacted since January.

In addition, the SC has been unable to evolve a strategy to reduce the massive backlog of cases. Three seats remain vacant in the apex court, with three judges departing in the last three months. Delays in filling these vacancies contribute to the backlog.

In the past three months, three judges have departed from the SC. Justices Ijazul Ahsan and Mazahar Ali Akbar Naqvi resigned, while Justice Sardar Tariq Masood retired last month.

However, CJP Isa has summoned a meeting of the Judicial Commission of Pakistan (JCP) on May 3 to consider proposed amendments in the process of appointing superior court judges.

One official in SC attributes the increase in pendency to factors such as the month of Ramazan, the shortage of judges, and the constitution of special benches. Efforts are being made to address the backlog by fixing bunches of cases, particularly revenue and tax matters involving government revenue.

Regarding the strategy to clear the significant backlog, the official explains that cases are being grouped together for resolution. Priority is being given to revenue and tax matters that impact government income.

The judicial performance of the top court over the last decade, from 2013 to 2023, reveals that the backlog of cases has increased by more than 150 per cent.

In 2013, the Supreme Court had a total of 20,116 pending cases. However, by March 31, this figure had skyrocketed to 57,181, marking an increase of over 150 per cent. Since 2017, more than 20,000 cases have been added to the total backlog.

In 2001, the number of pending cases before the SC stood at 13,070. Over the years, this figure has multiplied several times.

As of March 31, a total of 3,337 jail petitions are pending in the SC.

There is a pressing need for frequent full-court meetings to devise a strategy to address the backlog.

The performance of the SC has also been impacted by judicial politics, with factionalism evident within the institution.

Following the filing of a presidential reference against CJP Isa, the SC has become divided into two factions. However, the incumbent CJP promptly convened a full-court meeting on the very first day, breaking a three-year hiatus where no such meeting had occurred.

With the endorsement of the Supreme Court Practice and Procedure Act 2022, a committee of three judges is now responsible for determining the composition of benches.It has been reported that Justices Syed Mansoor Ali Shah and Munib Akhtar were tasked with formulating the case management policy. However, it remains unclear whether they have presented the policy.

Meanwhile, it has been revealed that Islamabad High Court (IHC) Chief Justice Aamer Farooq has called for a full-court meeting to address a letter submitted by six judges, scheduled for today (Tuesday). This marks the first full-court meeting at the IHC in over a year.

Similarly, the Lahore High Court and Peshawar High Court convened full meetings on the same matter on Monday.

Senior lawyers express the belief that had the full-court meeting at the IHC been convened earlier, the current crisis could have been averted.

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