SWAT:  The alternative dispute resolution platform of Dispute Resolution Council (DRCs) established in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa is helping public resolve issues amicably out of court but legal experts thinks it militates against the existing legal system and need to be reviewed to establish its efficacy.

DRCs were first set up in police stations in KP in 2014. Community representatives that act as members of DRC take up for resolution issues brought to their attention by the community. In a country where justice is expensive and inaccessible to many, restorative justice mechanisms like DRCs that keep unresolved disputes from turning into crime through community engagement in conflict resolution validates instituting them.

Writing in the Dawn, Police Officer Mohammad Ali Babakhel says: “Our courts are overburdened and cases are decided over decades. This erodes the trust of litigants in the state. Recently, the National Assembly was informed about 1.7 million pending court cases. Such a heavy backlog justifies the establishment of dispute-resolution councils (DRCs).”

However, legal experts say that despite official figures showing that the forums are effective in resolving community disputes amicably, only proper research can establish whether justice has been done while dealing with disputes.

Attaullah Khan, Head of the Law Department at the University of Malakand told News Lens that DRCs were challenged by a resident of Hayatabad in Peshawar, Qaiser Khan, in the Peshawar High Court for not having a legal coverage. The court, he said, had stayed and stopped the forums from resolving disputes but later on the provincial government has made amendments in Police Order 2002, giving legal cover to DRCs.

According to the documents available on KP police website, the stated aim of the DRCs establishment was to create engagement between offenders, victim and the community to have reconciliation on community disputes.

The jury office of DRCs was established in each police station having total of 21 members. Three members from the community take up cases that the police department refer to the DRC which seeks to resolve the conflict through mutual agreement without taking the matter to court.

Data from the model police station in Rahimabad area of Swat – one of the KP districts where the United Nation Development Program (UNDP) has helped establish DRCs and trained members in mediation, basic law and human rights – shows that it had dealt with over 3000 disputes since 2014. Of these 2500 cases have been settled through mediation while the rest of the cases have either been referred to court, or the parties didn’t agree to reconcile.

Sher Zaman, a member of the Rahim Abad DRC told News Lens that most of the cases referred to them relate to domestic disputes, inheritance, land grabbing and demarcation.

He said they listen to the both parties and then provide them suggestions for reconciliation to resolve the dispute. “We have even resolved cases of murder through mediation and the parties happily agreed with our suggestions.”

However, now the Judicial Academy of Peshawar has reservations over the role of DRCs as a restorative justice mechanism, settling community disputes.

An official of judicial academy who wished not to be named because he was not authorized to speak to media said that the academy was researching the role of DRCs in dispensing justice.

The official said as soon as they complete the research work, the academy will come up with its stance on DRCs. Presently, he said, they neither support nor oppose the establishment of DRCs in the province.

When asked if they are thinking over challenging the DRC in the court, he said it would be decided after the completion of the academy’s research on DRC.

Head of the Malakand University’s Law Department Attaullah Khan said there were three state institutions-judiciary, legislature and executive-in Pakistan and the country’s constitution was based on the theory of Separation of Power, allowing the three institutions to exercise authority in their respective spheres.

He added the legislature was supposed to make laws, the executive to implement them and the judiciary to interpret and to decide cases on the basis of enacted rules.

“Adjudication is the sole prerogative of the judiciary and other segments of the state institution should not interfere with its jurisdiction because adjudication by executive may lead to violation of the principle of natural justice,” he said.

He said police being a party in every criminal issue could influence any party to get result of its own choice and so therefore dispute resolution should be left to courts only.

If the state wants to strengthen the Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) mechanism, said Attaullah Khan, it should be left to local governments as they have the power to resolve disputes among the people under section-201 of the Local Government Act 2013 and Musalihati Jirga (Constitution and Functions) Rules, 2006.

Police Officer Babakhel wrote in the Dawn article that “the effectiveness of such bodies in KP can be judged from the fact that during June-December 2014, a total of 7,817 applications were received; 3,500 disputes were amicably resolved while 187 were referred for legal action.”

He said though the efficacy of DRCs cannot be denied, the capacity of the councils’ members remains a weak link. Members should be sensitised about their powers and responsibilities as well as legal and procedural aspects of the criminal justice system and ADR.

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