One of the fundamental elements of every judicial system is the court system or judiciary. The presiding judge issues the verdict after the prosecution provides all of the evidence against an accused criminal and the alleged offender offers his own evidence in defense. The verdict can be one of acquittal or punishment.

Structure and Functions of Judiciary in Criminal Justice Sector of Pakistan

In Pakistan, there are three divisions of subordinate courts, three tiers of federal courts, and a Supreme Judicial Council. Every district in each province has district courts, which have both civil and criminal jurisdictions but mostly deal with civil issues. Civil and criminal appeals from lower courts within the provinces are heard by the High Court of each province. The Supreme Court is located in Islamabad and has appellate authority over decisions of the High Court as well as exclusive jurisdiction over disputes between or among the federal and provincial governments. Additionally, a Federal Shariat Court was formed on May 26, 1980, by a Presidential Order. This Court has the sole authority to decide whether a legislation complies with Islamic tenets upon the petition of any person, the federal or provincial governments, or on its own initiative. The Federal Shariat Court receives assistance in this role from an Islamic advisory board made up of ulama (religious scholars). The lower judiciary, which consists of the District Courts, Session Courts, and Courts of Magistrate, has the most significant role in the criminal justice system of Pakistan. The figure below gives classification of criminal courts in Pakistan. 

Source: The Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898; Barakatullah, “Judicial system of Pakistan”, (2010), Pakistan Journal of Criminology 2(3)

District Courts

In Pakistan, the district courts are the lowest tier of courts and are responsible for handling all civil and criminal cases. There is a Court of Sessions Judge in each district, along with the Courts of Magistrates which have the authority to hear criminal matters. Sessions Judges adjudicate issues involving the application of Hudood (Islamic Laws) and crimes that carry the death penalty. Any sentence authorized by law may be passed by the Court of a Sessions Judge. Magistrates adjudicate crimes that are not capital. There are Magistrates of First Class, Second Class, and Third Class among the Magistrates. A challenge against a sentence handed down by a Sessions Judge should be brought to the High Court, and one against a sentence handed down by a Magistrate should be brought to the Sessions Judge if the length of the punishment is up to four years.

Session Courts

The entire district is within the Session Court’s jurisdiction. A session judge designated to preside over it may have one or more additional session judges on hand to offer assistance. The session judge is the superior authority for all district magistrates. A session judge has a wide range of authority, including the power to hear cases involving all major offences, including robbery, murder and all other forms of homicide, substantial theft by habitual offenders, etc. The execution of a death sentence imposed by a session judge requires the approval of the High Court. Session Court hears appeals from Magistrates Courts. All session judges are able to use the same authority as the police and also the authority as a justice of the peace. On a complaint regarding the non-registration of a criminal case, the transfer of an investigation from one police officer to another, or the neglect, failure, or excess committed by a police authority in relation to its function and duties, an ex-officio justice of the peace may issue the appropriate direction to the concerned police authorities.

Judicial Magistrate Courts

There are various civil and judicial magistrate courts in every city and town. Magistrates can hear any criminal proceedings and offences including attempted murder, dacoity, robbery, and extortion where there is no death penalty, although they can only impose sentences of up to seven years or less. The court must send the case to a higher court with its recommendations if it determines that the accused warrants a sentence more than seven years. Every magistrate court has a jurisdictional area assigned to it, which is often one or more local police stations. Magistrate Courts hear and rule on all non-bailable offense trials, including those involving police remand notifications, accused discharges, arrest and search warrants, and bail petitions.

The first-class magistrate has the authority to try crimes carrying a maximum sentence of three years in jail and a fine of 45,000 rupees. Offenses punishable by up to a year in prison and a fine of 15,000 rupees may be tried by a magistrate of the second class. Offenses punishable by up to one month in jail and a fine of 3,000 rupees may be tried by a magistrate of the third class.

High Courts

High Courts are the highest court for criminal appeals or modifications at the provincial level.When a death sentence is being confirmed, a minimum of two judges must be present for the High Court to have the power to impose the death penalty. In order to move a criminal matter from one court to another, the High Court processes petitions for habeas corpus. In this regard, it has the power to impose sentences of up to 25 years in jail. It has the authority to levy fines, order the confiscation of property, and oversee the activities of lower courts. It has the authority to grant writs including writs of habeas corpus, mandamus, certiorari, quo warranto, and prohibition.

Supreme Court

The Supreme Court of Pakistan is the highest court, and its judgments are enforceable and binding on all lower courts. The Supreme Court has the authority to interpret the Pakistani Constitution and exercises original, appellate, and advisory jurisdictions. It upholds and defends the fundamental rights of people and has the authority to declare a law unconstitutional if it violates principles of Islam. The Pakistani Supreme Court has appellate authority over criminal cases and advisory jurisdiction when it comes to advising the government on legal matters.

Special Courts

Juvenile Courts 

A distinct court with the authority to manage criminal matters involving minors is known as a juvenile court. Juvenile matters must be handled in a separate court with a different framework from the regular criminal court, according to the juvenile justice theory. Additionally, it mandates that judges get training and education in areas such as juvenile justice, delinquency, child behavior, and other law and crime-related topics. According to the Juvenile Justice System Act of 2018, special courts must be formed in order to safeguard children from criminal prosecution. 

Anti-Terrorism Courts 

Pakistan’s main anti-terrorism law, the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA), was promulgated in 1997. The ATA was passed with the intention of giving law enforcement authorities more authority to combat and investigate terrorism, as well as to establish special anti-terrorism courts (ATCs) to hasten the trials of terrorist suspects.

Investigations and the Role of Judiciary

Judges in Pakistan have very little influence over the investigation process, which is still conducted outside of the courts. The investigation of a criminal case is typically not impacted by the courts. Moreover, according to the Pakistani Supreme Court, the High Court lacks the jurisdiction to intervene with the criminal case investigation. The rationale behind such non-interference is that the accused would be free to present their defense in front of the trial court.