- Method in the slowness?
The British National Health Service (NHS) provides free healthcare to its patients. The flip side is that getting examined is often preceded by notoriously long waiting times. There’s a true story about an elderly gentleman who wanted to get treatment for pain in his left knee. After about a year and a half he received the call to see the doctor, who asked him immediately after exchanging pleasantries as to how he was feeling. The gentleman replied that his right knee was hurting like hell. ‘That’s strange, because as per my documents it’s your left knee that’s been giving you trouble,’ the puzzled doctor remarked. To which the patient replied apologetically: ‘Well now that you bring it up, I do recall that it was my left knee when I had put in the application. But for the last three, four months it’s the right one that has been causing me grief.’
The advantage of the slow rhythms of the NHS, in addition to the obvious one of discouraging hypochondriacs and frivolous patients, is that many of the problems get solved naturally; which is great in the interest of saving the taxpayers’ hard-earned money and in terms of patients avoiding the side effects of medication.
Our judicial system is no quicker than the NHS. In fact, it’s much slower. It’s certainly not free. Like the NHS however, there may be a method in its maddeningly slow processes. It certainly has its merits, one of which was on display the other day when the inimitable Mushahid Hussain Syed appeared in the Supreme Court for the hearing of the Islamabad Metro Bus Project case.
In the let-the-time-do-the-healing approach to law, the Pakistani judicial system goes at least two steps farther than the Japanese one
It was Hussain himself who had written a letter to the apex court seeking a suo moto notice on the project. There was a problem however: the letter was written in 2014 whereas the case was taken up in 2018. Now things couldn’t have been more different for Hussain in 2018 than they were in 2014. In 2014, as PML-Q’s central secretary-general he had called the project a ‘total disaster’ on grounds that the cost had exceeded many times that estimated by the Asian Development Bank in 2012. He had also pointed out the largescale deforestation of Islamabad; and had alleged that the environmental impact assessment (which was a requirement) had never been carried out for the project. Who would have thought (including the visionary Hussain himself) then that he would be on the forefront of Nawaz Sharif’s struggle for sanctity of vote in 2018? (The struggle, it might be added, has already borne fruit for Hussain as he was again recently elected Senator; and it’s only a matter of time before the benefits trickle down to the masses.)
Coming back to the hearing, when Hussain was not forthcoming with any arguments in favour of his petition, the apex court duly disposed of the suo moto notice. With the benefit of hindsight, it can be safely said that had the Supreme Court taken up the case for hearing earlier, it would have resulted in huge losses in court time and public money, for Hussain would then have had too little time to become aware of the untold benefits of the project for the country and presumably for the CPEC as well. (After Pakistan and democracy, CPEC is the third great love of Hussain’s life.) Well, all’s well that ends well. It has certainly been a win-win for all parties: the judicial machinery, the taxpayers, Shah Ji (as Hussain is affectionately referred to), and of course the sanctity of vote.
This happy ending calls to mind Japanese family courts, which make it a point not to expedite divorce cases. That is, proper court proceedings in divorce cases that are not entirely straightforward can be preceded by months of mandatory mediation sessions which are designed to nudge the parties towards reconciliation wherever possible. This cooling period, so to speak, allows many couples to reconcile, especially where the decision to part ways was taken in passion, or as a knee-jerk reaction to something they can’t recall anymore. This go-slow policy on the part of the family courts has put at least a small check on the still exorbitant divorce rate in the country.
In the let-the-time-do-the-healing approach to law, the Pakistani judicial system goes at least two steps farther than the Japanese one. One: it doesn’t discriminate between criminal/civil/family/constitutional cases; and two: owing to its slow pace it keeps providing, over a period of years on end, plenty of opportunity to plaintiffs and respondents alike for them to make up their minds whether litigation is the best course of action after all; and whether they wouldn’t be better off settling the matter out of court; and whether it wouldn’t be best leaving it to God Almighty to adjudicate on all matters in the Hereafter to the utmost satisfaction of all parties.