Structure of Criminal Courts in Pakistan

Supreme Court of Pakistan (Apex court)

Federal Shariat Court of Pakistan

High Courts of Pakistan (one in each province and also in federal capital)

District Courts of Pakistan (one in each district)

Judicial Magistrate Courts (with power of Section 30 of Cr.PC only in criminal trials)[1]

Judicial Magistrate Courts (in every town and city)

Executive Magistrate Courts (Summary trial court)

Courts of Civil Judge (judges with power of 1st class and 2nd class cases)

Supreme Court Of Pakistan

The Supreme Court (Urdu: عدالت عظمیٰ) is the apex court in Pakistan’s judicial hierarchy, the final arbiter of legal and constitutional disputes. The Supreme Court is made up of 17 permanent judges, and has a permanent seat in Islamabad. Cases are also heard in its Branch Registries in the provincial capitals of Lahore, Peshawer, Quetta and Karachi. It has a number of de jure powers which are outlined in the Constitution, including appellate and constitutional jurisdiction, and suo moto power to try Human Rights matters. Through several periods of military rule and constitutional suspensions, the court has also established itself as a de facto check on military power. The Supreme Court Judges are supervised by the Supreme Judicial Council, which may hear complaints brought against any of them.

Federal Shariat Court of Pakistan

The Federal Shariat Court of Pakistan was established by presidential order in 1980 with the intent to scrutinised all laws in the country that are against Islamic values. 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 Islamic (hudud) penalties. The Supreme Court also has a Shariat Appellate Bench empowered to review the decisions of the Federal Shariat Court. The Federal Shariat Court of Pakistan consists of 8 muslim judges including the Chief Justice. These Judges are appointed by the President of Pakistan, after decision is made by the Judicial Committee consisting the Chief Justice of Pakistan (Federal Shariat Court) and the Chief Justice of Pakistan . They choose 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. Presently Justice Agha Rafiq Ahmed Khan is the Chief Justice of FSC.

Of the 8 judges, 3 are required to be Islamic Scolars/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.

see also part vii chapter 3A,constitution of islamic republic of pakistan 1973. (Article 203A)

High Courts

There is one High Court in each Province, and one in the federal capital, Islamabad, including:

Lahore High Court, Lahore, Punjab

Sindh High Court, Karachi, Sindh

Peshawar High Court, Peshawar, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa

Balochistan High Court, Quetta, Baluchistan

Islamabad High Court, Islamabad, ICT

The High Courts are the appellate courts for all civil and criminal cases in each respective province. The High Courts’ general authority is laid out in the Constitution of Pakistan, 1956, Article 170, which reads:

“Notwithstanding anything contained in Article 22, each High Court shall have power throughout the territories in relation to which it exercise jurisdiction, to issue to any person or authority, including in appropriate cases any Government directions, orders or writs, including writs in the nature of habeas corpus, mandamus, prohibition, quo warranto and certiorari, for the enforcement of any of the rights conferred by Part II and for any other purpose.”

District & Sessions Courts

District courts exist in every district of each province, and have civil and criminal jurisdiction. In each District Headquarters, there are numerous Additional District & Session Judges who usually preside the courts. District & Sessions Judge has executive and judicial power all over the district under his jurisdiction. The Sessions court is also a trial court for heinous offences such as Murder, Rape (Zina), Haraba offences (armed robbery where specific amount of gold and cash is involved), and is also appellate court for summary conviction offences and civil suits of lesser value. Each Town and city now has a court of Additional District & Sessions judge, which possess the equal authority over, under its jurisdiction. When hearing criminal cases, it is called the Sessions Court, and when it hears civil cases, the District Court. Executive matters are brought before the relevant District & Sessions Judge.

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.

Daily proceedings in the Court of the Additional District & Sessions Judge

Court usually starts early in the morning (at 08:00), with the hearing of pre-arrest bail applications, followed by post-arrest bail applications and civil appeals from the orders of the Judicial Magistrates’ Courts and civil Judges. Decisions are usually announced later in the day, once the Judge has had time to peruse the case files after the hearings. The rest of the day is allocated for the recording of the Evidence in sessions cases such as in offences murder, rape and robbery etc. Cases are usually allotted by administrative orders of District and Sessions Judges. The Court of the District & Sessions Judge usually hears administrative applications against lower courts orders.

Civil Judge Cum Judicial Magistrates’ Courts

In every town and city, there are numerous Civil and Judicial Magistrates’ Courts. A Magistrate with the powers of section 30 of Criminal Procedure Code (Cr.P.C.) has the jurisdiction to hear all criminal matters other than those which carry the death penalty (such as attempted murder, dacoity, robbery, extortion, etc.), but may only pass a sentence of up to seven years’ imprisonment. If the court thinks accused deserves more punishment than seven years in jail, then it has to refer the matter to a higher court, with its recommendations to that effect. Every Magistrates’ Court is allocated a local jurisdiction, usually encompassing one or more Police Stations in the area. Trial of all non bailable offences, including police remand notices, accused discharges, arrest and search warrants, and bail applications, are heard and decided by Magistrate Courts. Most Judicial Magistrates may hear civil suits as well. If they do so, they are usually called a Civil Judge Cum Judicial Magistrate.

Special Tribunals and Boards

There are numerous special tribunals such as;

Banking Courts

Services Tribunals

Income Tax Tribunals

Anti Corruption Courts

Anti Narcotics Courts

Anti terrorist Courts

Labour Relations Court

Board of Revenue.

Special Magistrate courts

Consumer Courts – drug courts

Almost all judges of above mentioned courts and tribunals except last two, are of District & sessions Judges or of having same qualifications.

Family Courts

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.Every town and city has court of family judge.In some areas, where it is only Family Court but in most areas Civil Judge Courts have been granted the powers of Family Court Judges.

Juvenile Courts

Section 4 of the JJSO authorizes the Provincial Government to establish one or more juvenile courts for any local area within its jurisdiction, in consultation with the Chief Justice of the high court. Ten years have passed, and not a single such court has been established; and instead the High Courts have been conferring status of the juvenile courts on the existing courts. The High Courts cannot be doing this on their own, and must be instructed by the provincial governments to do so. In this era of independent judiciary, the High Courts should standup against the governments on this issue and refuse to confer powers on the already over-burdened courts and instead should insist upon establishing exclusive juvenile courts.

Section 6 of the JJSO prescribes special procedure for the juvenile courts which involves issues like not ordinarily taking up any other case on a day when the case of a child accused is fixed for evidence on such day; attendance of only specified persons in the court; and dispensing with the attendance of the child in the trial.

Appointments of Judges

Supreme Court of Pakistan

Prior to 18th Constitutional Amendments, appointments to the Supreme Court of Pakistan were made by the President of Pakistan, on the recommendation of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. This system bred many allegations of favouritism. Many judges who were appointed were relatives of other Judges or Government officials. However, following the Supreme Court’s judgement in the Al-Jehad Trust case, the government’s role in judicial appointments was curtailed. Under the terms of this judgement, the Government and the President’s office were bound to act on the recommendations of the Chief Justice of Pakistan. After the 18th Constitutional Amendment in May 2010, a new Judicial Commission and Parliamentary committee is established for appointments. The Judicial Commission consists of the Chief Justice of Pakistan,four senior judges of the Supreme Court, the Attorney General of Pakistan, and the Federal Justice Minister of Pakistan,one member from Pakistan Bar Council. A Parliamentary Committee oversees the recommendations of the Judicial Commission. At the Commission’s first meeting, the Chief Justice and the Registrar of the Supreme Court of Pakistan are appointed Chairman and Secretary of the Judicial Commission, respectively.

High Courts

In Appointments to the High Courts, the same procedure as in Supreme Courts appointments is adopted Prior to 18th Constitutional Amendment, High Court appointments suffered much the same criticisms as those to the Supreme Court. Future appointments will be made in the same manner as those to the Supreme Court.

District & Sessions Judges

Additional District & Sessions Judges are appointed by the Provincial High Courts, from a pool of Lawyers and subordinate judges. To be eligible for appointment, Lawyers must have ten years’ experience as an advocate with good standing in the respective jurisdiction. They must also pass an examination conducted by the High Courts. Subordinate judges are promoted from senior civil judges on a seniority basis.

Civil Judge Cum Judicial Magistrate

Civil Judge Cum Judicial Magistrates are also appointed by the Provincial High Courts, on the recommendation of provincial Public Service Commissions. These Commissions hold open competitive exams annually, which are advertised in national newspapers. The basic qualifications required are an LL.B from any recognised university, and three years’ experience as an advocate in the jurisdiction in question. The exams include various compulsory papers. For example, the Punjab Public Service Commission sets compulsory papers on English Language & Essay, Urdu Language & Essay, Islamic Studies, Pakistan Studies, General Knowledge (objective test), Criminal Law, Civil Law 1 & 2, and General Law. All candidates who pass the examinations are given a psychological test. Those who pass both these stages are interviewed by members of Service Commissions, and recommendations are made to the respective High Courts for appointments.