In a country plagued by bad governance and weak rule of law, the judiciary has a vital role in restoring peoples’ trust in the state. Unfortunately, this is not the case in Pakistan. All legal institutions from local police stations to the higher courts are viewed with distrust and alarm. Pakistan’s courts are notorious for their slow speed and citizens fear the dysfunctional criminal justice system. Countless litigants await justice in our courts at all levels. For instance, at the end of last year, 37,694 cases were pending in the Supreme Court itself.Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Mian Saqib Nisar recently stated that the country’s judicial system is in dire need of reform. We cannot agree more. CJP suggested imposition of harsh penalties on those who were found to be extending lawsuits to ‘trap’ their opponents in torturous litigation. He also acknowledged that the laws left by the British were created centuries ago and were no longer applicable to today’s Pakistan. In October 2017, he had also urged for improvements in the legal system that could make women comfortable with speaking openly in court. These issues are well known, but reform has not been easy simply because there is a lack of commitment by those who wield power. This includes the honourable judges themselves who are afraid to upset the status quo. In the past, many reform efforts have been squandered due to lack of ownership by the executive and the judiciary. The Parliament has not played its due role either. And then there are larger questions to be addressed. Moving away from the colonial era justice system requires a national debate in which people and their representatives are involved and the courts would need to support such efforts and not view them as ‘encroachment’ on their autonomy. Similarly, the bigger dilemma is one that relates to how the Parliament and judiciary can tackle Pakistan’s security establishment and the religious right that are always keen to ensure that laws serve their power interests. A sad illustration of this quandary is how the judiciary has been unable to check Pakistan’s security agencies from cracking down on dissidents or end enforced disappearances. In a similar fashion, the judiciary has been unable to prevent the misuse of the draconian blasphemy laws, which are routinely used to target religious minorities. Not much has been done in terms of handling the Qisas and Diyat laws, which allow criminals with financial resources to murder and then get released by paying off the victims’ families.We will support all efforts that the CJP and his colleagues undertake to reform our highly flawed justice system. Sadly, reform is what every CJP in the past has talked about with no substantive results. Fixing our current system will require at least a decade and is not possible without intra-institutional consensus and a proactive Parliament aided by civil society and the media. * Published in Daily Times, January 14th 2018.