Public Interest Litigation: A Constitutional Regime to Access to Justice in Pakistan.

Byline: Aman Ullah

The opportunities were limited to access to justice before Independence of Pakistan. However, it was relatively easy for the people of Pakistan to frame their constitution without any inordinate delay and to fulfill the purposes of Independence of which one of them was less expensive and expedient access to justice. The British traditional courts did not open their doors directly for justice to a common man of Pakistan. In the Constitution of Pakistan 1973, Article 184(3) was inserted to bestow jurisdiction on the Supreme Court in a case of breach of fundamental right of public importance. Initially, the Supreme Court remained oblivious of its power that it could play a pivotal role to provide a direct justice to the poor people of Pakistan.

Particularly, in case of violation of fundamental rights, the Supreme Court, along with High Courts, started to entertain the suppressed people directly, removing all shackles of a writ or requirements of an adversarial system to access to justice. Increasing legal status of the Objectives Resolution as well played an important role to empower the lower strata of the society to find the constitutional Courts accessible for justice, through Public Interest Litigation.


When Constitution of Pakistan was promulgated in Pakistan in 1973, Fundamental Rights along with remedies on their breach were also were guaranteed, under Article 8 and 199. Without prejudice to Article 199, the Supreme Court of Pakistan was also provided with a direct jurisdiction, under Article 184(3), in case of breach of Fundamental Rights of public importance. In Pakistan, since Article 2A contains the Objectives Resolution as a substantive part of the Constitution, inserted by the Eighth Amendment, therefore, it impacted the Constitution, law and judicial principles tremendously. How it affected the principles of Public Interest Litigation has also been handled in the article additionally.

It has also been the focal point of the research, while dealing with this topic, the way by which the Objectives Resolution has been successfully explored to expand the realm of judicial review; to take suo moto action; to entertain application from the public directly; to initiate proceedings against the malpractices of the public functionaries, protecting right to life. Similarly, the study, at the end, will evaluate the way by which the Judiciary of Pakistan came out to use these unusual and unfamiliar methods to defend the poor masses from the powerful, authoritative, resourceful, and corrupt public functionaries.

Developments in Pakistan

The roots of Public interest Litigation goes back to the late 80's.1 The rampant breach of fundamental rights by the public authorities, led the Courts to play an active role and protect the little man of Pakistan against inefficient, corrupt, inept and ineffective public functionaries.2 The treasure-trove and ladder was right to life along with other fundamental rights using Public Interest Litigation to provide the people without heavy pockets access to justice. The broader and wider interpretation of right to life, under Article 9 of the Constitution of Pakistan, helped the Courts create and discover new fundamental rights emanated from it. Similarly, softening the restrictive rules of locus standi provided a passage to claim newly emerged fundamental rights. 3 However, for a long time, the judiciary in post Independence era followed the well established Anglo Saxon principle of judicial restraint and stuck to the rule of 'aggrieved person' to knock the door of the Courts.

The judicial restraint, due to the English traditions, repeated promulgation of the Martial Laws and the constitutional emergencies, did not attract them to judicial adventurism. The result was the availability of justice for the elite of the society, rather than the poor people of Pakistan.4 The Supreme Court, in the leading case of Tariq Transport Company,5 expressly stated, while emphasizing on the rigid principle of locus standi, that it was a basic principle that a person seeking judicial review of administrative or quasi-judicial action must show that he had a direct personal interest in the act. Gradually, the Courts realized that the application of restrictive approach, on the ground of technicalities, was a barrier to access to justice. Kaikaaus J opined, while sizing up the role of procedure in an administration of justice, that procedural technicalities must not frustrate the people to claim their rights.6

However, even then, the rule of locus standi remained a hurdle in the way of public to sue. The standard of locus standi remained to be limited to the 'aggrieved person' till 1988.7 The main propose of the Public Interest Litigation, all over the world, is to give voice to voiceless people, who are socially, economically and educationally disadvantaged. Ironically, the first case of Public Interest Litigation, entertained by the Supreme Court, was brought up by a wealthy and resourceful politician rather than a little man of Pakistan. Coincidently, immediately after the death of Zia ul Haq, the Supreme Court heard the first landmark case of Public Interest Litigation.8 Although the outcome of the instant case was not for poor public, even then, it provided first milestone of a long journey. It overturned the procedural regime of adversarial system of litigation and tried to remove the label of the Courts as a guardian of vested interest of the elite of the society.9

In the case of Mohammad Javid Malik 10 the doctrine of Public Interest Litigation was discussed and in Mohammad Yaqoob11 the Lahore High Court observed that "with the development of new concept of public interest litigation in the recent years, a person could now invoke the constitutional jurisdiction of the superior Courts even if he was not an aggrieved party".12 A fit case of Public Interest Litigation, which addressed the issue of plights and miseries of suppressed bonded laborer of bricks kiln, was Darshan Masih.13 A bonded laborer of brick kiln sent a telegram to Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, praying him to emancipate them from such cruel and inhuman practice. It was a first example of epistolary jurisdiction exercised by the apex Court. While admitting that it never happened already, the Court converted the telegram into a writ and called up the relevant parties, along with some amicus curie.

The Court treated the case as a non-adversarial litigation and opined that where there was no formal complainant, accused or contesting party, therefore, no one should be reckoned as victorious or victim. However, it must be taken as triumph of rule of law and fundamental rights.14 Public Interest Litigation got the momentum when the catalyst of the 'Quetta Declaration' was signed by the Judges of the Supreme Court and the Higher Courts. It was a Scheme for the 'Protection of Rights of all Classes' specially the deprived ones, allowing the use of umbrella of Public Interest Litigation.15 Pursuant to the Declaration, many social action groups, independent of the traditional "aggrieved person" who had suffered the loss, brought a number of cases in the constitutional Courts. In fact, that was a beginning of public interest litigation, regarding the environmental protection in the...

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