..::Court System of Pakistan

…posted by Pakistani Law Firm…Free Legal Advice

Court system of Pakistan is made up of many courts differing in levels of legal superiority and separated by jurisdiction. Some of the courts are federal in nature while others are provincial.

Pakistan has three levels of federal courts, three divisions of lower courts, and a Supreme Judicial Council. District courts exist in every district of each province, with civil and criminal jurisdiction. The High Court of each province has appellate jurisdiction over the lower courts. The Supreme Court has exclusive jurisdiction over disputes between and among provincial governments, and appellate jurisdiction over High Court decisions.

The Federal Shariat Court was established by Presidential Order in 1980. This Court has a remit to examine any law that may be repugnant to the “injunctions of Islam, as laid down in the Holy Quran and the Sunnah.” If a law is found to be ‘repugnant’, the Court is to provide notice to the level of government concerned specifying the reasons for its decision. The Court also has jurisdiction to examine any decisions of any criminal court relating to the application of hudud penalties. The Supreme Court also has a Shariat Appellate Bench empowered to review the decisions of the Federal Shariat Court.

The West Pakistan Family Courts Act 1964 governs the jurisdiction of Family Courts. These courts have exclusive jurisdiction over matters relating to personal status. Appeals from the Family Courts lie with the High Court only.

A court is a public forum used by a power base to adjudicate disputes and dispense civil, labour, administrative and criminal justice under its laws. In common law and civil law states, courts are the central means for dispute resolution, and it is generally understood that all persons have an ability to bring their claims before a court. Similarly, those accused of a crime have the right to present their defence before a court.

Court facilities range from a simple farmhouse for a village court in a rural community to huge buildings housing dozens of courtrooms in large cities. A court is a kind of deliberative assembly with special powers, called its jurisdiction, to decide certain kinds of judicial questions or petitions put to it. It will typically consist of one or more presiding officers, parties and their attorneys, bailiffs, reporters, and perhaps a jury.

The term “court” is often used to refer to the president of the court, also known as the “judge” or the “bench”, or the panel of such officials. For example, in the United States the term “court” (in the case of U.S. federal courts) by law is used to describe the judge himself or herself.

In the United States, the legal authority of a court to take action is based on three major issues: (1) Personal jurisdiction; (2) Subject matter jurisdiction; and (3) Venue

Jurisdiction

Jurisdiction, meaning “to speak the law” is the power of a court over a person or claim. In the United States, a court must have both personal jurisdiction and subject matter jurisdiction. Each state establishes a court system for the territory under its control. This system allocates work to courts or authorized individuals by granting both civil and criminal jurisdiction (in the United States, this is termed subject-matter jurisdiction). The grant of power to each category of court or individual may stem from a provision of a written constitution or from an enabling statute. In English law, jurisdiction may be inherent, deriving from the common law origin of the particular court.

Trial and Appellate Courts

Courts may be classified as trial courts (sometimes termed “courts of first instance”) and appellate courts. Some trial courts may function with a judge and a jury: juries make findings of fact under the direction of the judge who reaches conclusions of law and, in combination, this represents the judgment of the court. In other trial courts, decisions of both fact and law are made by the judge or judges. Juries are less common in court systems outside the Anglo-American common law tradition.

Civil Law Courts and Common Law Courts

The two major models for courts are the civil law courts and the common law courts. Civil law courts are based upon the judicial system in France, while the common law courts are based on the judicial system in Britain. In most civil law jurisdictions, courts function under an inquisitorial system. In the common law system, most courts follow the adversarial system. Procedural law governs the rules by which courts operate: civil procedure for private disputes (for example); and criminal procedure for violation of the criminal law.

The Federal Shariat Court (FSC) of Pakistan consists of 8 muslim judges including the Chief Justice. These Judges are appointed by the President of Pakistan choosing from amongst the serving or retired judges of the Supreme Court or a High Court or from amongst persons possessing the qualifications of judges of a High Court.

Of the 8 judges, 3 are required to be Ulema who are well versed in Islamic law. The judges hold office for a period of 3 years, which may eventually be extended by the President.

The FSC, on its own motion or through petition by a citizen or a government (federal or provincial), has the power to examine and determine as to whether or not a certain provision of law is repugnant to the injunctions of Islam. Appeal against its decisions lie to the Shariat Appellate Bench of the Supreme Court, consisting of 3 muslim judges of the Supreme Court and 2 Ulema, appointed by the President. If a certain provision of law is declared to be repugnant to the injunctions of Islam, the government is required to take necessary steps to amend the law so as to bring it in conformity with the injunctions of Islam.

The court also exercises revisional jurisdiction over the criminal courts, deciding Hudood cases. The decisions of the court are binding on the High Courts as well as subordinate judiciary. The court appoints its own staff and frames its own rules of procedure.

Eversince its establishment in 1980, the Federal Shariat Court has been the subject of criticism and controversy in the society. Created as an islamisation measure by the military regime and subsequently protected under the controversial 8th Amendment, its opponents question the very rationale and utility of this institution. It is stated that this court merely duplicates the functions of the existing superior courts and also operates as a check on the sovereignty of Parliament. The composition of the court, particularly the mode of appointment of its judges and the insecurity of their tenure, is taken exception to, and it is alleged, that this court does not fully meet the criterion prescribed for the independence of the judiciary. That is to say, it is not immune to pressures and influences from the Executive.

In the past, this court was used as a refuge for the recalcitrant judges. And whereas some of its judgments, particularly the ones which relying on the Islamic concept of equity, justice and fair play, expanded and enlarged the scope and contents of individual’s rights were commended, others that tend to restrict the rights of women, are severely criticized and deplored. In brief there is a need for a serious discussion on the status, utility and functions of this Court.

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