Accessing Justice

Accessing Justice
Access to justice is the foundation of the rule of law, whereas dispensation of justice is the mandate of the law. It is a fundamental right that ensures individuals, regardless of their status or political position, to seek redressal of their grievances. In essence, access to justice is both a right in itself and the means of preserving other basic human rights. In reality, however, access to justice remains elusive, especially in the pursuit of settling political scores.

This elusiveness was displayed vividly in the events of 9th May, painting a bleak picture regarding the enforcement or development of the right to access justice. The political repercussions were for everyone to see, in terms of how swiftly the situation escalated and deteriorated. Such, perhaps, is the nature of political repercussions, however the grave legal consequences of it seem lasting. Regardless of political positions, the mode and manner in which an arrest warrant was executed within Court premises has profound implications.

The Constitution of Pakistan guarantees every citizen with an inalienable right to enjoy protection of law and to be treated in accordance with law. It safeguards citizens against any action detrimental to their life, liberty, body, reputation or property, except in accordance with law.

While the Parliament enacts law, it is within the exclusive domain of the Courts to oversee whether actions are taken ‘in accordance with law,’ and to safeguard fundamental rights against such actions. For this reason, Courts are considered sanctuaries. The mandate of Courts in the administration of justice is not only to ensure a mechanism whereby anyone can seek justice, but also to inspire confidence in people that within its premises, they are protected under the shadow of justice.

The events of 9th May instilled a sense that in the pursuit of political vendettas, the sanctity of Courts can be conveniently disdained. It displayed a marathon for access, one purportedly towards seeking justice whereas the other towards the seeker himself, and the results of this marathon were loud and clear.

The collateral damage in this marathon was the sanctity of a Court of law, and in turn, the rule of law. As rightfully observed, buildings can be repaired and wounded persons will heal, but it is the sanctity of the role of Courts in the administration of justice that has to be preserved to ensure rule of law.

The rule of law dictates that one who himself voluntarily surrenders before the Court of law, puts himself to the mercy of the Court, seeks protection of the Court and presents himself to seek assistance of the Court, must be safeguarded and a denial thereof amounts to denying that individual his access to justice. If people are left unguarded from exercising their fundamental right of access to justice, they are likely to lose confidence in the administration of justice.

In developing democracies, political scuffles are often shaky, but it is rule of law that ensures and fosters growth and stability. Therefore, in order to strengthen belief of general public in the system of administration of justice and inspire confidence in the rule of law, it is crucial to safeguard the fundamental right of people of access to justice, even more so in a fragile state of affairs.

The writer is a lawyer based in Islamabad and currently works as a Judicial Law Clerk at the Islamabad High Court.