KARACHI: Hundreds of visitors, including litigants and undertrial prisoners, face a great deal of inconvenience because of inadequate amenities at the district courts in the city, it emerged on Thursday.
There are more than 200 subordinate courts, including the civil, criminal and family ones, located at the City Courts and District Courts in Malir. Most of them are situated in the City Courts — the oldest and largest judicial complex housing 210 courts of district and sessions judges, additional district and sessions judges, senior civil judges, civil judges and judicial magistrates of South, East, West and Central districts — on M.A. Jinnah Road.
During recent visits to the City Courts judicial complex it appeared that there was an acute shortage of basic facilities such as potable water, public toilets, sitting arrangements and shelters for visitors.
Around 10,000 visitors, including litigants, undertrial prisoners, their relatives, the police investigating officers, lawyers and prosecutors turn up daily in relation to litigation ranging from civil disputes to criminal trials and matrimonial issues fixed in four districts.
‘Hardly 15 public toilets are set up at three separate locations inside the complex’
However, lawyers put the figures of the visitors between 15,000 and 20,000, as a large number of the outsiders also visit a bank, a post office, the revenue department’s record room and stamp duty office and malkhana (warehouse) — all located inside the City Courts judicial complex.
The figures might differ, but what has remained unchanged for decades is the poor state of the infrastructure and amenities.
There are hardly 15 public toilets, a couple of them reserved for women, set up at three separate locations inside the complex.
Similarly, there are only three shelters for visitors and the UTPs installed at different locations in the complex. There are barely 10 water coolers for visitors.
“Obviously, there is no proportion as compared to the number of visitors, which has gradually increased over the years and the basic facilities that have not been increased adequately,” Advocate Ashfaq Ali Gilani, the president of the Karachi Bar Association, told Dawn.
He said the provision of the facilities such as toilets, potable water and shelters for the public at the courts was primarily a responsibility of the provincial government under the Constitution.
However, he said public toilets were built by the government sometime ago while the shelters and the sofas were gifted by the Karachi Bar Association from its own pocket.
Mr Gilani added that a meeting of the KBA representatives with the district and sessions judges of the four districts was held two months ago, where various issues concerning improvement of the judicial system and infrastructure were also discussed. “The district judges promised to get these issues resolved soon,” he added.
The situation at the district courts in Malir is relatively better, as they are housed in a newly built judicial complex.
Judicial sources told Dawn that the province-wide inspections of the subordinate judiciary were launched by the Sindh High Court in 2016 to check the availability of the facilities required to ensure dispensation of speedy justice to the public and also to ensure convenience for them at the courts. “Initially, some of the district and sessions judges, including Karachi’s five judicial districts’ heads, submitted reports to the SHC,” a judicial officer part of the inspections’ process told Dawn.
“In their reports the DJs not only claimed to have provided all the requisite facilities to the public at the courts, but also showed a surplus amount from the funds meant for the infrastructure improvement at the courts,” the officer added.
Source said this led then SHC Chief Justice Sajjad Ali Shah to call explanations from the DJs on the utilisation of the funds with details regarding the number of facilities provided in the district judiciary to verify such claims.
However, the inspections abruptly came to a halt following nullification of appointment of a retired district and sessions judge, Zafar Ahmed Khan Sherwani, who was appointed chairman of the SHC’s members inspection team, which was tasked with province-wide inspections. Later, the initiative was completely abandoned after Justice Sajjad Ali Shah was elevated to the Supreme Court.
During the visits it also emerged that the buildings of several blocks were congested and overcrowded as expansions had not been carried out on the judicial complex’s premises while the legal fraternity was also against the decentralisation of the courts.
Some judicial officers, who did not wish to be named, said that several of their colleagues had to share chambers as no new courtrooms had been built in the congested buildings.
The provincial government in 2016 had decided to relocate the district courts of Korangi from the City Courts, but the legal fraternity strongly resisted it by calling strikes and had also obtained a stay order from the Sindh High Court against their shifting.
“If the district courts are relocated to Korangi, it would not only save the thousands of litigants from spending extra expenditure and time, but also create free space to accommodate the judges and judicial staff,” remarked a judicial officer, adding that he hoped that the SHC would decide the matter pending disposal soon enough.
Published in Dawn, June 22nd, 2018