US report damning of Pakistan’s judicial system, Islamabad says comments “unwarranted”

Stung by a damning criticism of its judicial system in a US report, that questioned the independence of Pakistan’s courts and called them “corrupt” and “inefficient”, Islamabad has described the comments as “unwarranted” and “factually incorrect”

Jul 28, 2021
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Pakistan's Foreign Office Spokesman Zahid Hafeez Chaudhry

Stung by a damning criticism of its judicial system in a US report, that questioned the independence of Pakistan’s courts and called them “corrupt” and “inefficient”, Islamabad has described the comments as “unwarranted” and “factually incorrect”. Equally riled over the unusually harsh remarks in the Investment Climate Statements for 2021 released by the US Department of State, the Pakistani media labeled the comments as “slanderous”.

The report claimed that though, theoretically, Pakistan’s judicial system operated independently of the executive branch, the reality was quite different.

“Pakistan’s judiciary is influenced by the government and other stakeholders. The lower judiciary is influenced by the executive branch and is seen as lacking competence and fairness. It currently faces a significant backlog of unresolved cases,” the report says, according to Dawn.

The report cast doubt on the competence, fairness, and reliability of Pakistan’s judicial system.

“Theoretically, Pakistan’s judicial system operates independently of the executive branch. However, the reality is different, as the establishment wields significant influence over the judicial branch.

“As a result, there are doubts concerning the competence, fairness, and reliability of Pakistan’s judicial system. However, fear of contempt of court proceedings inhibits businesses and the public generally from reporting on perceived weaknesses of the judicial process,” it said.

The report noted that Pakistan’s legal code and economic policy do not discriminate against foreign investments, but “enforcement of contracts remains problematic due to a weak and inefficient judiciary.”

Pakistan ranked 124 out of 180 countries on Transparency International’s 2020 Corruption Perceptions Index.  The report alleged corruption persisted because of a “lack of accountability and enforcement of penalties”, followed by the lack of merit-based promotions and relatively low salaries.

According to the report, bribes are classified as criminal acts under the Pakistani legal code and are punishable by law but are widely believed to be given across all levels of government.

“Although the higher courts are widely viewed as more credible, lower courts are often considered corrupt, inefficient, and subject to pressure from prominent wealthy, religious, political figures and the establishment.

Political involvement in judicial appointments increases the government’s influence over the court system,” it said.

Rejecting the comments, Pakistan claimed its courts were independently performing their functions under the constitution.

“We take strong exception to the gratuitous and unwarranted comments made in the report on Pakistan’s judicial system,” Foreign Office Spokesman Zahid Hafeez Chaudhry said while responding to media queries.

He said the judiciary in Pakistan was independent and the courts were functioning under the Constitution and laws of the country.

“The allegations to the contrary are firmly denied as factually incorrect and misleading,” he remarked.
Chaudhri said Pakistan is a vibrant democracy, the government firmly believed in the separation of powers between the executive, legislative and judicial branches of the state.

“There is no question of any coercion or pressure on Pakistan’s judiciary. The baseless assertions made in the report are contradicted by innumerable decisions by Pakistani courts at all levels that meet the highest standards of judicial independence,” he stressed.

He said the report speculated on alleged shortcomings in Pakistan’s regulatory framework and bases its conclusions on unverifiable sources.

“Mutually beneficial cooperation in the areas of economy, trade and investment with the international community, including the US, is one of the key priorities of the government of Pakistan. We will continue to take steps to optimally realize Pakistan’s geo-economic potential,” he said.

Meanwhile, Pakistan’s leading media outlet Dawn described as ‘slanderous” the comments in the US report.

(SAM)