ReflectionsOur spoilt judiciaries [Archives:2004/724/Opinion]

March 25 2004

By Yahya Al-Olfi
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From time immemorial humans discerned that justice is the basis for upright governance. Islam gave this aspect a prime importance and hence the chief judge used to be summoned to meetings with the Muslim Caliph in order to be conculted about serious state affairs. Corrupt judges used to be disqualified and were loathed by the general populace.
The judge at those times used to represent the viewpoint of the rulers and their decisions were always under scrutiny lest they deviate or appear to follow their whims. Many qualified Muslims used to refuse the assumption of the profession out of fear of God's punishment and the accusation by the people of being unjust.
In Arabic we call the judge “Al-Qadi”. Spaniards borrowed the word and are using it to refer to the mayor as “Alcalde” whilst the British and Americans borrowed from Arabic the word Sheriff (i.e. the honest and honorable) which is in Arabic a highly regard attribute of the judge but they use it in the same manner as the Spanish with slight differences.
In fact, during the heyday of Islamic Civilization this profession was highly respected and the judges had privileges and immunities and likewise were required to be honest, intelligent and wise. Muslims of all classes used to respect the Islamic judicial system and the story of a litigation filed by a Jewish citizen against the Caliph Ali, in which the Jew won the case and later converted to Islam due to such an instance of brilliant justice is widely renowned in our history and shows how Muslim leaders in those days paid extreme attention to justice.
Regrettably one of our state “irresponsibles” made me laugh when he said that the human beings merely devised laws in order to maintain the rights of the weak.
Unfortunately, he does not know that justice is what matters in any given country and if justice is well served the concerned country is calculated as highly civilized, or conversely, amongst the deeply backward. The dangerous side effect of the absence of law and order is that recourse to legal authorities becomes tedious, as is the case unfortunately in our country, and people have begun to shun state courts and resort to irregular tribal arbitrations.
Complaints are mounting about the corruption of our judiciaries, that they prolong cases, intensify the differences and whip up the antagonists, all for the sake of ripping people off. Due to the intensified complaints, the government decided to increase the judges' salaries and privileges.
Now, judges have large enough salaries, private cars and other allowances but are still persisting in their abominable habits. I have been observing closely the development of two cases and found out that in the first the litigation is still going on for the fifth consecutive year and that both parties have lost money in the litigations equaling twice the value of the property that is the subject of their dispute, and the problem is still unresolved.
On the other hand the second case goes like this: “A man produced his title documents to plots of agricultural land because the individuals entrusted to till the lands have after years of exploitation coveted them and are denying his title to the said plots of land. The judge at first studied the documents of the plaintiff and when he found them correct and binding. Being intent upon usual blackmail process (like most of our judges), he of course does not want the litigation process to go smoothly without a well-wrought exploitation of this advantageous opportunity and thus has instructed his clerks to dilly-dally in the procedures and to extract as much money as possible as bribes first. He begins preparations for endless instances of extortion, particularly when animosity heats up and each party would like to prevail.
This continues even if one of the involved parties knows for sure that he has no right, but due to the corruption of the judiciary and the certitude of being able to inflict morale and material losses on the other party with impunity, the wrongdoer is encouraged to go on .
Islam has come to replace tribal traditions but our government is reviving tribal traditions, which are not only irreligious but also illogic. How can we expect investors to invest their capital in Yemen if we cannot demonstrate the cleanliness and express performance of our judicial system, let alone the fact that we revert to backward tribal non-Islamic solutions. All other crimes thrive because of daily injustices and the worsened performance of our judiciary.
Errors are made in other Arab countries but without the slightest doubt, they are incomparable to our bottomless blunders.
I had the chance to follow broadcasts of lawsuits on a German satellite channel named ZDF and an American channel named OLISAT. I noticed that bringing suits goes smoothly unhindered and the institution of legal proceedings is expedited and any given case is solved in one, two or three sessions if needs be. People there are relaxing in their homes watching the claims and counterclaims and finally out of their final closed-door sessions the judges and their advisers emerge to pronounce their impartial, rightful verdicts. Of course, we can make setup sessions in order to imitate, just like our futile parliamentary sessions, but they are for sure totally unequal in transparency and evenhandedness.
When there are fair and strict empowered judiciaries, crimes undoubtedly will be reduced. People will take the initiative and will for sure cease carrying arms lest they commit mistakes and out of extreme fear of the impending justice. Real reform of, not fake proclamations about, the judicial system shall be the cornerstone of the overhaul of our poor current state of affairs.