Despite the parliament being the primary institution of legislation in the country, the Senate is taking the responsibility much more seriously. The Senate, constituting itself as a committee of the whole, discussed and unanimously adapted several draft measures to address the dispensation of speedy and inexpensive justice in the country, and that is not the only topic it restricted itself to – for good cause. It also addresses the issue of enforced disappearances and decided to initiate consultations with stakeholders, including religious scholars, to prevent misuse of the blasphemy law.
These are the discussions that our legislative bodies need to have – more so than any other issue. Reformation of the justice system, accountability for security agencies, and the misuse of blasphemy law are subjects that can only be affected by radical legislation. Problems of such complexity and importance cannot be handled by executive orders – which are very specific and subject to expiry – or bureaucratic activism – which is bound to the existing law. Only the primary institute of democracy can take this initiative, and it is highly commendable that the Senate, finally, has.
The practicality of these measures, whether they will translate into reasonable legal rules, and their implementation are questions that will ultimately decide the fate of this Senate draft. However, the mere fact that this conversation has begun, especially for a controversial subject such as the blasphemy law, is a big step in the right direction. The credit for this is not the Senate’s alone; the Supreme Court’s Oct 7, 2015, verdict (rejection of Mumtaz Qadri’s appeal against his death sentence) was cited in the proceedings as possible basis of future legislation. The act of seeking the opinions of religious scholars is going to complicate the seemingly ‘liberal’ reform process, but their inclusion ultimately lends legitimacy to any decision reached. The conversation has begun, but the process is far from over, and the government must continue it with the same enthusiasm it started it with.
The same can be said for the Senate’s recommendations on reigning in security agencies. It is a conversation that the government has been too cautious to have, but one that is surely needed – ask any citizen of Balochistan.
The main objective of the committee – dispensation of speedy and inexpensive justice – does require more than what was drafted. The ‘solutions’ are arbitrary, and many just focus on implementing what has been already set down as law. The legal system needs a dedicated and extensive reform, carried out by a dedicated research commission on the matter; problems of delay are embedded into the criminal and civil procedure. The committee’s recommendations are a start, but they are a makeshift fix.