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Rule of Law

Rule of Law

A prerequisite for democracy

After the ouster of former prime minister, Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif, in Panama Case, there has been a lot of hue and cry both for and against the verdict of the Supreme Court of Pakistan. Given this state of affairs, it is important to understand the most basic requirements of a true democracy. Most people in our country think that democracy is merely the selection of national executive by means of elections. But it actually is not so because the most important requirement of democracy is the rule of law. 

The World Justice Project’s definition of the rule of law is comprised of the following four universal principles:

1. Accountability

The government as well as private actors are accountable under the law.

2. Just Laws

The laws are clear, publicized, stable and just; are applied evenly; and protect fundamental rights, including the security of persons and property and certain core human rights.

3. Open Government

The processes by which the laws are enacted, administered and enforced are accessible, fair and efficient.

4. Accessible & Impartial Dispute Resolution

Justice is delivered timely by competent, ethical and independent representatives and neutrals who are accessible, have adequate resources and reflect the makeup of the communities they serve.

We may conclude in the words of Christian Fleck that “[t]he Rule of Law, in its most basic form, is the principle that no one is above the law. The principle is intended to be a safeguard against arbitrary governance, whether by a totalitarian leader or by mob rule. Thus, the rule of law is hostile both to dictatorship and to anarchy.”

If we go into the history of the democracy, we would find that people in Britain started demanding the same rights as were available to lords and feudalists in their country. The first success in this regard came in the form of Magna Carta which was the royal charter of political rights given to rebellious English barons by King John in 1215.

The British parliament comprises two houses: House of Lords and House of Commons. Initially, most parliamentary powers rested with the House of Lords but with unrelenting efforts of the people, the House of Commons of the United Kingdom has become the supreme legislative body and even the Prime Minister is elected from amongst the members of the House of Commons.

On the contrary, in pre-partition India, the British colonialists introduced a democratic system where the criteria for membership were based on education, property and loyalty to the Crown. In this way, the feudal class became dominant in the legislative bodies. To perpetuate their rule over India, the British rulers lured the local influential people with prizes, titles and near-exemption from general laws. Hence, the environment they created here was directly opposite of the one they had in their own country where rule of law was the prime feature of democracy.

Pakistan inherited this culture and feudalism in 1947. So, as the time passed by the federal and provincial legislatures became the elite clubs of these influential people who hardly had any other purpose than safeguarding their own interests. Other institutions, particularly the military, developed interest in gaining political power and they became the most powerful political actor in Pakistan. They installed handpicked politicians giving them power in the name of representation of the people of Pakistan. Most of our politicians too worked with army; thus, violating the most fundamental prerequisite of the rule of law as constitution was abrogated or held in abeyance.

The elitist culture that has permeated Pakistan over the years cannot empower the people of Pakistan in true sense of the word. We have to understand that all are equal before law either the elected leader or any head of an institution. It is time for politicians to mend their ways and abandon the politics of self-interest by ensuring that there is rule of law in the country as it is the only key with which we will be able to solve the problems of Pakistan.

The Rule of Law in Pakistan

Key findings of the 2016 Extended General Population Poll & Justice Sector Survey

1. Perceptions of Government Accountability: Less than one in five Pakistanis (18%) think that a high-ranking government officer publicly known to be embezzling government funds would be prosecuted and punished. Perceptions of accountability in Pakistan are the lowest in South Asia, worse than Nepal (49%), Bangladesh (45%), Sri Lanka (42%), Afghanistan (24%), and India (19%).

2. Corruption across Institutions: Pakistanis believe that a significant number of authorities are involved in corrupt practices. Police are viewed as the most corrupt department (82%) and judges and magistrates are perceived to be the least corrupt (47%). Since 2013, there has been a moderate decrease in perceived levels of police corruption, and an increase in perceived levels of corruption among judges and magistrates.

3. Bribery Victimization: Petty bribery is pervasive in Pakistan. More than three quarters of Pakistanis have paid a bribe to process a government permit (78%), and approximately three quarters have paid a bribe to receive assistance from the police (74%).

4. Fundamental Freedoms: While a large majority (69%) of respondents agree or strongly agree that people can join together to draw attention to an issue or sign a petition, less than half (48%) agree or strongly agree that people are free to join any unforbidden political organization.

5. Crime Victimization: Households in Pakistan experience high rates of crime. In the last three years, 16% of households have experienced an armed robbery, and 16% a burglary. There are large differences in victimization rates across the five selected cities in Pakistan, with the highest armed robbery (29%), burglary (25%), and murder (5%) rates reported in Karachi. Meanwhile, respondents in Peshawar reported the lowest rates of burglary and murder.

6. Criminal Justice: Incompetent investigators and inadequate resources were cited as the most serious problems facing criminal investigative services in Pakistan. Inadequate alternative dispute resolution (ADR) was cited as the most serious problem facing criminal courts in Pakistan. While respondents’ views since 2013 on whether courts guarantee everyone a fair trial have decreased (39%); there has been recorded a moderate increase in the percentage who believe that police respect the basic rights of suspects (18%).

7. Legal Awareness: Pakistanis have a moderate amount of legal knowledge. The greatest percentage of respondents was able to correctly answer questions related to children’s legal rights while the smallest percentage was able to do so for questions related to due process and rights of the accused.

8. Paths to Justice: Among Pakistanis that reported experiencing a dispute in the previous 12 months, only one-third took any action to resolve their dispute. Of those that did take action, most (72%) chose to take their dispute to a traditional, customary or local leader – such as a Jirga, Biradari, etc. – for resolution. Those that took their dispute to court were the most satisfied with the fairness of the process and were the most likely to use that mechanism again.

9. Trust in Pakistan: Pakistanis have a high degree of trust in fellow citizens, with 73% reporting that they have a lot or some trust in other people living in Pakistan. Across institutions, Pakistanis have the most trust in the courts (56%) and the least trust in the police (17%).

10. Rule of Law & Governance Priorities: Pakistanis consider corruption to be the most important issue facing the country. When asked what the most important aims for Pakistan should be over the course of the next ten years, 27% cited reducing corruption, followed by reducing crime (26%) and reducing poverty (23%).



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