Time to overcome huge backlog of cases

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The protests by inmates of Larkana Jail against shifting of some hard criminals to Karachi Prison shows how strong the criminal mafia is that they are capable of operating string of protests from inside the prisons.

As reported, the Lakana jail inmates resorted to violent protests, raising slogans and some climbing on the barracks and resorted to rioting over shifting of a prisoner to Central Jail in Karachi.  The prison administration said that it had to shift the said inmates to Central Jail in Karachi for creating unrest in the jail for not  only repeatedly breaking the prison rules to exploit the laws for their own benefits, but also spearheading violent moves on the floor of prison, becoming a security threat within prison by igniting rioting.

As a matter of fact, hardened criminals become a nuisance even inside prison and such criminals must be kept at facilities where the staff is vigilant and keeps an eye on their activities, so that they cannot resort to operate even from inside the jails. As a matter of fact, majority of jail inmates land into prison on minor issues and it is this big segment of the prison population which must be protected from the influence of hard criminals, but that is not possible as our jails are overcrowded and the disposal of cases from the courts is very slow which is evident from the big backlog of court cases.

There is no denying that mingling of the hardened criminals with minor offenders expose the latter to extreme danger of not only transforming into criminals but also their safety is at risk. As per available data, majority of our prisons across the country are overcrowded as they house more than the approved number of inmates.

According to the details,  the Federal ombudsman in his  report submitted before the  superior court of Pakistan i.e. Supreme Court in November 2019 ,  revealed that the overcrowding rate in prisons stands at alarming 134 per cent across the country which underlined the serious nature of the issue.  According to further details given in the report, a total of 77,275 prisoners are being kept in about 114 jails across the country while the total capacity of these prisons stands at 57,742 which shows almost double crowding of the jails.  To be very specific, it is this overcrowding which makes it difficult almost impossible for the jail administration to control the inmates and which also deny the inmates an opportunity to correct their behavior. Worldwide, the prisons are a sort of correctional centres where the prisoners are given ample opportunities to redeem their acts and turn into law abiding citizens, but the sad fact of our prisons is that even minor offenders turn into hardened criminals once landed in jails.

That majority of jail population comprise under trials whose cases remain pending in  the courts, speaks volume. The province-wise number of such prisoners is over seventy per cent in KP, as many numbers in Sindh, followed by 59 per cent in Balochistn and another 55 per cnet in Punjab province. Sometime back the SHC directed the provincial governments to suggest ways and means to overcome this issue in jails, but all in vain. Prolonged delays and endless rounds of the courts turn our judicial system into working at snail’s pace due to which cases which can be decided in weeks and months are delayed for decades.

This undue delays has resulted in huge backlog of cases i.e., 51,387 cases are pending before the Supreme Court alone what to speak about the cases in High courts and session courts. Overall, an estimated 2,160,000 cases  are in the courts which need speedy disposal. One way to deal with this huge backlog is to ensure double shifts in courts. Moreover, the new Chief Justice should work on the lines of previous Chief Justice who went an extra mile in focusing on streamlining court procedures and establishing model courts in every district to ensure early disposal of criminals cases by expediting the hearings.

His efforts bore fruit as it resulted in clearing the two decades backlog of criminal pleas. However, the huge backlog of civil cases is still pending and something serious needs to be done to dispose of these cases in a competent way. We are living in digital times and hearing cases through video link connectivity is a viable option.

This practice was introduced some two years back when the SHC heard cases via this digital platform. This advanced approach is not only time saving and economical but also as authentic as previous modes of proceedings. In the post-covid scenario, we need to focus on this innovative approach and take it up on large scale to cater to the needs of large number of litigants. In the present circumstances, the modern approach can help expedite the court procedures which are a sure way to deliver early decisions for cases to help overcome the issue of huge backlog of court cases.