Grappling with which court is superior to which and where they figure in the overall judicial hierarchy? I have drawn up and written a basic overview of the Pakistani court structure to simplify and explain it without the legal jargon.
Note: Only LHC has been illustrated as the same structure applies for all other High Courts.
The highest court of Pakistan. The SCP sits in Islamabad with branch registries in Lahore, Karachi, Peshawar and Quetta (meaning parties can file cases and get them heard in provincial capitals at these branch registries).
The SCP primarily hears appeals from High Courts and direct constitutional petitions on enforcement of fundamental rights which contain a public element. It is also the exclusive forum for disputes between Federal and Provincial Governments. It has a Shariat Appellate Bench, which hears appeals from Federal Shariat Court.
The highest court of a respective province. There are a total of five High Courts, one for each province and one for Islamabad.
Sindh High Court has its principal seat at Karachi and benches in Hyderabad, Sukkur and Larkana.
Lahore High Court has its principal seat at Lahore and benches in Rawalpindi, Multan and Bhawalpur.
Peshawar High Court has its principal seat at Peshawar and benches at Abbottabad, D.I. Khan, Mingora and Bannu.
Balochistan High Court has its principal seat at Quetta and benches at Sibi and Turbat.
Islamabad High Court only sits at Islamabad.
The High Courts primarily hear appeals from subordinate courts and also direct constitutional petitions under Article 199 of the Constitution, regarding enforcement of fundamental rights. Sindh High Court and Islamabad High Court also have powers to hear civil suits of certain categories if the case is above a certain value. A High Court’s jurisdiction is limited to the province.
The Federal Shariat Court (FSC) sits at Islamabad with bench registries at Karachi, Lahore, Quetta and Peshawar. FSC has the power to examine and determine whether laws of Pakistan are in accordance with Islamic injunctions. The FSC also has appellate jurisdiction for cases decided by criminal courts (Sessions Court) in relation to enforcement of Hudood.
Under the High Court’s control, subordinate judiciary can be divided in to two different categories: Civil Courts and Criminal Courts.
- Civil courts:
- District Judge (DJ): The highest court of original civil jurisdiction within the subordinate judiciary is that of the District Judge (there is a District Judge for each administrative district in the province). District Judge mostly hears appeals from courts of civil judges and certain matters on civil side cannot be tried by a lesser court than a district court.
- Additional District Judge (ADJ): The ADJ has the same powers as DJ. It shares the case load of the DJ but works under its supervisory control.
- Senior Civil Judge and Civil Judges Class I, II & III: A civil suit (civil case) is heard by civil judges. According to the value of the case it is assigned to different categories of civil judges.
Civil Judges hearing cases under special laws, are referred to by the particular terminology of the special law. For e.g. Civil Judges hearing a family cases or child custody cases are referred to as Family Judge, or Guardian Judge respectively.
- Criminal courts:
- Sessions Judge: The District Judge is referred to as “sessions judge” when he/she presides over criminal matters. Mostly one refers to them together by the term District & Sessions Judge (D&SJ). Sessions Judge mostly hears appeals from courts of magistrates and certain matters on criminal side cannot be tried by a lesser court than a session court (for eg. murder, certain Hadd offences, rape).
- Additional Sessions Judge: The ADJ has the same powers as DJ. It shares the case load of the DJ but works under its supervisory control.
- Judicial Magistrate Class I, II & III. All other criminal trials are heard by Magistrates. Again like the D&SJ, it is usually one person who is given powers of both Civil Judge and Magistrate.
There are also various Special Courts & Tribunals, created by special laws which are functioning under the administrative control of the High Court & the Government respectively. Some examples are given in the chart. These are created by some special law for example the Environment Tribunal was set up pursuant to the Pakistan Environment Protection Act 1997. See this link on the website of Ministry of Law & Justice for details of special courts and tribunals.
NOTE: Separate judicial system exists for Gilgit-Baltistan & Azad Kashmir.