Mainstreaming Alternative Dispute Resolution for Equitable Access in Pakistan

Program Year: 2020

By Syed Abbas Hussain

Many marginalized persons, especially those in impoverished communities and women, find it difficult to access the legal system in Pakistan due to the stigma attached to approaching courts, inability to afford lawyers, and difficulty in understanding court procedures. As part of the Mainstreaming Alternative Dispute Resolution for Equitable Access to Justice in Pakistan project, The Asia Foundation partnered with Kinnaird College for Women in Lahore to host a series of webinars to promote awareness of mediation as an effective mechanism of conflict resolution.

Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) is attracting increasing attention, especially since Pakistan’s formal legal system is overwhelmed with cases. The goal of this Foundation project is to mainstream ADR mechanisms in the legal and judicial systems of Pakistan. ADR helps facilitate broad-based access to equitable justice, especially for vulnerable communities.

The Current Trends in ADR: Spotlight Series on Mediation webinar brought together leading experts to analyze mediation as a process within the legal system and culture of Pakistan. The objective of this series is to raise awareness of existing ADR mechanisms and laws and encourage critical reflection on how they can be further strengthened. Key discussions included the importance of capacity building through academia, encouraging lawyers to convince clients to choose ADR and the need for legal reform. Speakers included senior judges, advocates, senior members of High Court Bar Associations, academic experts, and legal analysts from Punjab.

The project has also extended its capacity building initiatives to the province of Sindh. The Foundation in collaboration with the Sindh Judicial Academy organized a series of trainings on mediation law, targeting senior civil judges from selected districts of Sindh. Since late September, three cohorts of judges were trained at the Sindh Judicial Academy in Karachi. The trainings explored different types of ADR procedures (arbitration, mediation, and conciliation) and elements of the Code of Civil Procedure amendment–a law that contemplates referral of cases to ADR. Sessions also highlighted categories of cases that can be referred to ADR and underlined the strengths of the system.

Many economically impoverished litigants have benefited from ADR. Fida Hussain, a laborer from a small district in Punjab, was involved in a family dispute that had been pending trial for years. The daily wage earner struggled to cope with the pressure of managing his work in the face of endless court hearings. Being referred to an ADR center was a boon for him as his longstanding dispute was resolved through mediation within a short span of time.

Related locations: Pakistan