Law to be accessible to the people

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Zafar Aziz Chaudhry

All people and nations must be governed under the law to live with honour and dignity in this brief life. To achieve this end, they need a code of laws to govern all spheres of their lives, for which basic knowledge of their fundamental laws is essential for every individual.
It was an exquisite historical turn that this sub-continent had to undergo colonialism at the hands of the English during the 16th to the end of 19th centuries, which changed our civilisation. The Britishers, came to this continent on the pretext of trade but after establishing their hegemony over this area for over 200 years made away with the most agricultural and mineral wealth of this region with whose bounty, they later ruled the entire world. While doing so, they left behind enough traces of their own civilization in the form of structural reforms (canal irrigation system) and a strong system of Justice (British Common law) which was a rare parting gift of the fleeing colonialists for this entire region. The same gift went to the Indian side of the border.
Since the creation of this country in 1947, The legal system of Pakistan is based on the British Common law system of England. All publications of laws, regulations, and reporting systems are conducted in English. During the colonial British rule, nearly all the judges were English and recorded their judgments in English from which reviews, revisions and appeals used to be filed to the forums. Since their legal decisions had to be interpreted in the same language i.e., English, in which those were written, English became the court language. Under this exigency, the English language remained the common legal language of both India and Pakistan and during their occupation and after their departure from this region, British common law remained a system of justice of the sub-continent.
Urdu is Pakistan’s major and most universally understood language which has the largest literacy all over the country. Pakistan is also a diverse country of multiple ethnicities, spread all over it, where each one has its own local dialect besides Urdu, which acts as their lingua franca and serves as their common bond.
Pakistan employs a hybrid or mixed legal system, a system influenced by Islamic law, British common law, customary law, constitutional law, and Local govt law etc., Even our drafting of laws is done by the Parliament in the English language, hence translating it would create more problems than resolving any.
Our entire gamut of law is in English and now we cannot do without it. At best, we can prepare a greater and more competent force to capture the spirit of justice for which it was created. It would be possible by learning the English language and its syntax more vigorously and thoroughly, which is the lingua franca of the world today.
With all the benefits of English language, the residents’ ears were not familiar with its meanings. Thus, for the last more than half a century, in order to make its people become fully aware of the laws under which their lives were governed, a great corpus of law has been rendered into Urdu by lawyers and various publication houses, and now all old and new legislation rendered in Urdu reach the litigating public who have now far better knowledge of the legal understanding of their affairs with their community. With the passage of time and with better learning skills of English language and its idiom they now also enjoy greater comfort with English language. In addition, more of these Urdu renditions have made it even easier for them to know the law which is applicable to their affairs so that they can think in a better light about their own affairs. This greater awareness about their own selves and fellow citizens became possible mainly because of their greater accessibility to law in Urdu language.
Urdu is Pakistan’s major and most universally understood language which has the largest literacy all over the country. Pakistan is also a diverse country of multiple ethnicities, spread all over it, where each one has its own local dialect besides Urdu, which acts as their lingua franca and serves as their common bond.
There is an intractable problem in translating English law into Urdu. Normally the legislated law is in compact form and easy to translate into Urdu When the court’s decisions are appealed against in the higher forums, the decisions on appeal make another large bulk of laws called precedents which are an extremely important branch of laws called case laws, with which the lawyers embellish their office libraries, and draw parallels of existing cases with the decided reported cases which form a guide to the presiding judge to decide them on the precedent set before him if their facts are similar to each other. The lower courts are bound under the law to follow the legal precedents. But this case law is so enormous, that its translation in Urdu is impossible. Even otherwise due to the immensity of the subject of law, nobody would ever insist on its translation into Urdu, which would simply look absurd.
Here are some steps that can be taken to further the translation of the Pakistani legal system into Urdu or to make it more accessible to Urdu speakers: The government can initiate the translation of existing laws, regulations, and legal documents into Urdu. This includes the Constitution, penal code, civil code, and other important legal texts. Law schools and legal education institutions can offer courses and materials in Urdu to help train lawyers and legal professionals who are more comfortable with the language.
In areas with a significant Urdu-speaking population, courts can conduct proceedings in both English and Urdu. This can help ensure that litigants who are more comfortable with Urdu can fully participate in legal processes.
The writer is a provincial civil servant in Punjab and an author.