In his widely acclaimed inaugural address to the nation as Prime Minister, Imran Khan made some promises: the conversion of the Prime Minister House into a university and of the governor houses into public parks; the staff of the Prime Minister House to be cut down to the impossible figure of two; financial assistance from any foreign nation or institution not to be sought; keeping the interior ministry to himself to check money laundering; improve public hospitals; build parks and playgrounds; build tourism sites etc.
PM Imran Khan also promised the end of child sexual abuse; reform the police system in Punjab and Balochistan just like in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa; a new local government system.
Now as we look into the past we see, members of his government proudly declare the increased $1.4 billion assistance from the IMF, retired armed forces officer without any credible political popularity leading the interior ministry, child abuse issue not being addressed by the government, chances of reform in police look slim especially after retired IG Nasir Durrani resigned nearly as soon as his appointment and local government system has not been improved.
Reforming judicial system: How to fail?
Most of all, PM Khan claimed that he will have a meeting with Chief Justice of Pakistan and with his assistance, the judicial system will be reformed so that every case is decided in less than one year. This is a time benchmark that would put even the most developed legal systems to shame. He subsequently met the successive honourable Chief Justices many times, but a reform of the judicial system was never initiated by the government.
The promised reformation of the justice system fell out just like the Prime Minister’s other promises. Yet when the Prime Minister decided to take the nation into confidence over his measures for the lockdown, he once again lamented how substandard the justice system was. He took another U-turn on lockdowns, accepting that lockdowns slowed the spread of Covid-19.
Nation is watching over helpless PM who has taken UTurn from every claim including 1 crore jobs, 5 Mn houses, building University in PM house, to discontinue borrowings from IMF and so on.
— Taimur Talpur (@TalpurTaimur) May 2, 2020
All this once again laid bare the knowledge of the Prime Minister on how the justice system works. The reformation of the justice system is not the job of the judges, it is the job of the government to bring in legislation and for the Parliament to then frame that legislation. The courts of law are bound to follow the lead of the Parliament.
The Prime Minister had promised specific legal reform in the form of a ”legal package” as promised in the PTI’s 100-day agenda. For instance, legislation to provide poor and destitute people legal aid from the state. However, no such legislation or legal package came to see the day of light.
The Prime Minister was mistaken as to what the government can do to bring in legal reform. He started criticising the legal system into his second year in the office, giving the impression of an opposition leader.
Seek legal advice: Prioritising enforcement of laws
Moreover, PM Khan was also mistaken about smuggling laws. He declared that soon they will bring in an ordinance to curb wheat smuggling in the country since currently, the wheat rates in Pakistan are cheaper than international rates, therefore the chances of it being smuggled abroad have increased. This ordinance was promulgated.
Had Prime Minister Khan taken some legal advice before proclaiming the need for such an ordinance before the nation, he would have been told that there existed numerous laws making smuggling a criminal offence in the country, and what was required was better enforcement of the existing laws rather than promulgating new laws.
The Imports and Exports (Control) Act, 1950 provides that the Federal Govt. may, by an order published in the Official Gazette and subject to such conditions and exceptions as may be made by or under the order, prohibit, restrict or otherwise control the import and export of goods of any specified description, or regulate generally all practices (including trade practices) and procedure connected to the import or export of such goods. Any violation is punishable by one year in prison.
Similarly, the Prevention of Smuggling Act, 1977 exists on the statute book which gives the government vast powers to subdue smuggling, including the extremely rare power of preventive detention. What other powers would a government need to control smuggling?
Yet if the laws already stated were not enough, the Customs Act 1969 provides the government with extraordinary powers to curb smuggling including the powers of search, seizure and arrest, going so far to allow the X-ray of suspects involved in smuggling. Recently the FBR had issued directives of the imposition of heavy fine and imprisonment of up to seven years for smuggling through the Afghan Transit Trade under the same Customs Act. That was all the government was required to do this time as well.
Understanding if a legislation is required
The new law is once again an attempt by the government to play to the galleries, an optical illusion at best. Just like tax and accountability reforms were promised, and amnesty schemes and NAB amendment ordinance were promulgated. The person hailed as a tax reformer left his position after a historic shortfall, the NAB ordinance is to lapse on 24 April as the Parliament never approved it. Why would the drive against smuggling be any different?
It is high time that Prime Minister Khan realises that most legislations the government has brought in are unnecessary and absurd. He may be reminded that it is time that the government focuses on realistic legislation, like the employment and wages security legislation because of Covid-19. What about reforming civil and criminal procedure? Realistic legislation, which will improve the justice system, as the Prime Minister had promised never came to the shore, like Khan’s other promises, this promise too was broken.
Ali Tahir is a barrister, who has an interest in Pakistani current affairs, economy, constitutional developments, foreign policy and international law. The views expressed in this article are author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.