Pakistan launches mobile mediation court to help back logged courts

PESHAWAR (REUTERS) - Pakistani officials have begun offering mediation in a mobile courtroom to test whether it can help clear clogged courts.

The courtroom-on-a-bus will mediate small civil cases, minor criminal cases and juvenile cases, Mr Hayat Ali Shah, the head of the provincial judicial academy, said on Wednesday.

Cases can drag on for decades in Pakistan - there are 1.4 million pending nationally.

Some families of victims, frustrated with the moribund courts, turn to all-male gatherings of elders called jirgas instead. These offer instant decisions, but have sentenced people to be buried alive, gang-raped or stoned to death.

Judicial problems have also helped win the Taleban support when the militants offered Islamic courts dispensing swift justice.

Officials hope that new mediation can offer an alternative to the Taleban courts and traditional jirgas.

"Through this system we are trying to institutionalise mediation so that there is less of a chance that a citizen's rights will be violated," said Mr Shah.

The mobile court heard 29 cases in its wood paneled courtroom on its first day in Peshawar on Tuesday. It freed juveniles from jail, heard property disputes and imposed small fines.

"I got justice within 10 minutes in the mobile court. My case was running for the past six months in the court of the civil judge," property dealer Adnan Khan said.

The government hopes to launch 11 more buses this year with funding from the United Nations.

But lawyer Salman Raja said mediation could only work in small cases. For serious crimes, Pakistan needed more judges and better training for police, lawyers and judges, he said.