A police security guard stands near a new "Mobile Court" bus in Peshawar, the capital of the militancy-plagued Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in northwest Pakistan.
PESHAWAR, Pakistan – There's a new way to reach citizens in need of speedy and inexpensive justice in the remote militancy-plagued Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of northwest Pakistan – a bright, green, balloon-festooned bus called the “Mobile Court.”
"This mobile court will be a milestone toward provision of easy and inexpensive justice to the people of remote areas," said lawyer Mohibullah Kakakhel.
The spacious bus was handed over to Mohammad Khan, chief justice of the Peshawar High Court Dost, in a ceremony by representatives of the United Nations Development Program.
The program has been extending financial and technical support to the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government to complete the project, which was started at the high court’s initiative.
Khan, the chief justice, said people's inability to bring their disputes to brick-and-mortar courts – due to reasons including the cost of litigation and awkward legal procedures – prompted the institution to establish the mobile courts.
Kakakhel added the project's purpose was to reach "out of court settlements" for minor disputes and reconciliation between the rival parties.
A judge, along with his judicial staff, hears the first case in the Mobile Court in Peshawar.
"Sometimes, very minor disputes turn into major enmities and claim many lives. People will call the mobile court to their areas, if they had any problem," the lawyer told NBC News.
Similar mobile courts are already running in India and Bangladesh, reaching remote areas in those countries to settle disputes on the spot.
The large vehicle has a small courtroom, judge’s chamber, driver’s cabin and litigants' waiting section – as well as air-conditioning and a portrait of one of modern Pakistan’s founding fathers.
There are also three modes of electric power: from a generator, a solar energy panel and a regular electric connection when the bus is parked and can be plugged in.
“We had floated this idea to provide speedy and inexpensive justice to the people who live away from the major cities and can’t afford to come to the courts. In the beginning, some people criticized this project but it has become a reality now,” said Hayat Ali Shah, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Judicial Academy’s director general.
So far, eight judicial officers and 16 lawyers have been trained to run the mobile court. Six cases – five of criminal nature and one civil dispute – were heard on the vehicle's maiden voyage last week.
A civil judge-cum-judicial magistrate, Fazal Wadood, became the first judge to lead the legal proceedings on the bus.
A senior official of the Peshawar High Court said the plan is to set up 11 mobile courts in the province. One area that may pose a challenge is Malakand Division, where the Taliban defied Pakistan’s judicial system and enforced their own brand of Shariah law in 2007-2009.
Officials hope the mobile courts can also help reduce a considerable burden on the regular courts and help tackle the lawsuit backlog.
"The justice system would be itself in search of the oppressed class," Khan, the chief justice, said.
"A society can only prosper when differences are uprooted," Khan added in his written speech.
First published August 4 2013, 2:16 AM