sindh high court

Written by Fatima Asghar 7:50 pm Articles, Pakistan, Published Content

The Evolution of Sindh High Court (SHC)

The Sindh High Court, one of Pakistan’s five high courts, holds historical significance as a cornerstone of the province’s judiciary. Established in 1866, its evolution from the Sadar Court to the Sindh High Court underscores its pivotal role. The court’s jurisdiction spans civil and criminal matters, with recent landmark judgments exemplifying its commitment to justice.
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One of the five high courts in Pakistan, the Sindh High Court (SHC), stands as a vital institution of the judiciary in the province of Sindh. The grandeur of the architecture of the Sindh High Court is a reflection of its rich evolutionary history, which has played a major role in the construction of the judicial tapestry of Pakistan. The building of the Sindh High Court, located in the middle of Saddar in Karachi City, is a Victorian-style structure constructed in the British colonial era. The structure of the high court building is a perfect representative of the architectural engineering introduced by the British in the sub-continent along with the judicial system.

The broad jurisdiction of the Sindh High Court, which encompasses a diverse array of cases, along with the court’s appellate authority, makes it a crucial front of legal guidance for the community of Sindh. Furthermore, the court’s rulings serve as influential legal benchmarks, setting precedents adhered to by lower courts locally and across Pakistan.

History of the Sindh High Court

The history of the Sindh High Court of Pakistan can be traced back to the establishment of the Sadar Court for the province of Sindh in 1866, under the Bombay Act XII. The Sadar Court, at that time, was led by the judicial commissioner of Sindh and was the highest court of appeal in terms of both civil and criminal matters. It was in the year 1906 that Sadar Court was turned into the Court of Judicial Commissioner of Sindh under the Sindh Courts Amending Act. The Court of Judicial Commissioner of Sindh comprised three or more judges and served as not only the highest appellate court of Sindh but also as the district court and the session court in Karachi.

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The enactment of the Sindh Courts Act of 1926 paved the way for the establishment of the chief court for the province of Sindh. On April 1st, 1937, under the Government of India Act of 1935, Sindh became a separate province, and it only fulfilled the need of the province to bring the 1926 act into operation, This led to the formation of the Chief Court of Sindh. The 1926 Act was, hence, operationalized in 1940, elevating the Court of the Judicial Commissioner of Sindh to the Chief Court of Sindh.

Sindh High Court in Karachi

Compared to the 1907 bench of the court, the number of judges increased over the years, and in 1947, Mr. Hatim B. Tyabji became the first chief judge of the Sindh High Court. When the High Court of West Pakistan was established, the number of judges on the Karachi bench was consistent. Still, following the separation of Balochistan and Sindh, the Sindh High Court was allocated twelve judges out of the total fifteen, from which three were allocated to the Balochistan High Court. Currently, this number has increased to a total of forty.

The construction of the main building of the SHC, which included courtrooms, benches, judges’ chambers, and various other offices, started in 1923 and was completed in 1929. However, an annex building was also constructed in 1974 due to space constraints. The principal seat of the Sindh High Court is in Karachi, and it has benches in Sukkur and circuit courts in Hyderabad and Larkana. More benches can be formed by the high court at other places, in which the governor, on the recommendation of the cabinet and in consultation with the chief justice of the high court, may determine the jurisdiction.

Appointment of Judges: 18th and 19th Amendment

The practice of appointing judges of the Sindh High Court as well as other provincial high courts in the past included the preparation of a list of suitable candidates by the chief justice of the concerned high court which was later submitted to the president. The final selection was made by the president, which was altered after a Supreme Court ruling in the Al-Jehad Trust v Federation case.

It entailed that the recommendation made by the chief justice of Pakistan and the chief justice of the high court shall be binding on the president. Exceptions were to be made for sound reasons. This step concentrated the power in the hands of the judiciary which did not go well with the other two branches of the government, i.e., the legislative and executive, as they were left with little to no role in the process. This entire process, however, was altered following the 18th and 19th amendments of the constitution, the ground-breaking amendments that brought many changes to the provincial legal landscape of the country.

Following that, the judges of the high court are now appointed by the Judicial Commission and the Parliamentary Committee. According to Article 175 (A) of the Constitution, the Judicial Commission recommends eligible candidates, and these nominations are further confirmed by the Parliamentary Committee. These amendments painted a picture of a judicial system with a transparent and credible appointment process of the judges in the high courts, ensuring a merit-based approach. These amendments also brought forward a system of checks and balances looked over by the parliamentary committee, avoiding any concentration of power.

Jurisdiction of the Sindh High Court

Like the other high courts of Pakistan, the Sindh High Court has jurisdiction in both civil and criminal cases. This jurisdiction can be classified as original jurisdiction, appellate jurisdiction, and supervision of subordinate courts of the Sindh province. The original jurisdiction involves matters of fundamental rights secured by the constitution, which gives the SHC the power of judicial review. Under this power, the high court can issue orders (also known as writs) of mandamus, prohibition, certiorari, habeas corpus, and quo warranto.

Under the appellate jurisdiction, the Sindh High Court enjoys the power to go against the decisions of district and session court judges. This applies to both civil and criminal cases. The Sindh High Court also serves as the supervisor for all other courts in the Sindh province, by making rules and regulations within the law regarding judicial procedures.

Recent Landmark Judgements and Cases

The hollow halls of the Sindh High Court have witnessed many revolutionizing landmark judgments that have altered the legal tapestry of the province of Sindh. In recent times, the chambers of the Sindh High Court have heard decisions on several important cases pertaining to public interest, and appeals in criminal cases, many of which have taken decades to reach their verdicts.

Simplification of SOPs in Rape & Sexual Assault Cases

In the year 2021, following the landmark judgment passed by the apex court in the Atif Zaheer v. The State case, which deemed the two-finger test (TFT) and questioning of the survivor on her sexual history unconstitutional and illegal, the Sindh High Court directed the prosecution and the police departments for simplification of SOPs in rape, and sexual assault cases. This order was regulated keeping in view the lack of effective procedures to deal with the victims of rape and sexual assault in a humane way.

The lack of effective SOPs (standard operating procedures) in such scenarios is often the reason behind the lack of justice for sexual assault victims. Hence, this step by the Sindh High Court, following the orders of the Supreme Court to reform the investigation process in rape cases, upheld the dignity and the sanctity of the human rights of the victims along with their easy access to justice.

Equal Treatment for HIV/ AIDS Infected Transgenders

In the case of a recent petition filed by transgender activists, Shahzadi Rai and Hina Baloch, represented by advocate Sara Malkani, on the issue of negligence shown by medical institutions towards transgenders, on June 7, 2023, the Sindh High Court mandated an immediate order about the healthcare and human rights of the transgender community.

The petition was filed by the activists against the Civil Hospital referring to their discrimination in treating HIV/ AIDS trans patients, violating their fundamental human rights. The court ordered the hospital to treat the trans patients on an immediate basis and demanded an implementation report from the provincial health secretary. Through this order to the Civil Hospital, the Sindh High Court set a precedent for inclusive and equitable healthcare. This ruling underlines the judiciary’s dedication to ensuring that no person is refused medical treatment because of their gender identity and exposes the urgent issues faced by the transgender population.

Baldia Factory Case

The case of the Baldia factory in Karachi is among those landmark cases that took more than a decade to reach its verdict. Upholding the pillars of justice, the Sindh High Court passed a breakthrough verdict in September 2023 bringing the culprits responsible for a humongous fire in the Baldia factory under the sword of justice. On the 11th anniversary of the Baldia factory fire, that killed hundreds of people, a two-member bench led by Justice KK Agha, gave the verdict on the acquittal of individuals connected to the case following the government’s appeal regarding the conviction of the said individuals.

However, the court dismissed their appeals and upheld the death sentences of the then-MQM activists Zubair Charia and Rehman Bhola. The court has established a precedent for accountability and transparency by upholding death sentences for accused people and casting light on crucial concerns like a defective investigation, misleading FIR, and witnesses’ fear.

The order’s proactive provisions, such as requiring factory owners to follow safety rules and conducting thorough inspections, highlight the court’s position as more than just an arbiter of disputes. The case opens an important chapter in the judicial history of the Sindh High Court by demonstrating the judiciary’s dedication to tackling systemic problems and securing victims’ justice without taking into account the political status and powerful affiliations of the perpetrators. 

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