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Genuine Justice: The Advent of Consumer Courts in Pakistan

Written By: Syed Owais Ali Zaidy

I recently had an excellent experience seeking justice in District Consumer Court Multan. When I first approached the court, I had all the fearful perceptions in my mind of Pakistan’s sick  judicial system; how long it takes for a case to solve, how justice is almost never imparted and how one has to go through the ordeal of being present on court-premises on never ending hearings of lawsuits. Well, with this case, my intention was to “test” the judicial system and to see whether or not it is worth it, whether or not all the hue and cries associated with the courts in the country are correct, whether or not I should be approaching the court a second time if need be. I decided that the outcome of this case would decide my course of action in the future; it would act as the acid test for my perception of the courts in general and the consumer courts in particular. Therefore, I filed a lawsuit against a shop for selling me defected trousers and reneging on its clearly stated text on the receipt for a one season warranty of the pure cotton material.

As per the guidelines of the Punjab Consumer Protection Act [2005], the process included sending a legal notice to the other party to the conflict and demanding remedy. This can be sent by the complainant himself on a plain piece of paper, all dates and subjects withstanding or sent through a lawyer. The most important thing is to send it via a registry or courier and keep the receipt SAFE.

If the respondent fails to comply within fifteen [15] days, weekends and public holidays included, of the notice been sent, the complainant has the right to file a case in the District Consumer Court to seek justice.

The formalities of filing the case are to be observed if one desires to achieve justice since the court-system is very formal, overtly and unnecessarily formal at many times.

To file a case in a Consumer Court personally, as against through a lawyer, one needs to write down on a piece of paper, either manually or in the form of printed text, an application addressing the Honorable judge presiding over the court proceedings. In simple words, on a plain paper, one needs to write down what happened and what recompense is sought.

Alternatively, you can hire a lawyer and give him a letter of attorney to be present in court on your behalf throughout the court proceedings until the conclusion of the case.

So far, so good, now comes the important part. With the application to the Honorable judge, you need to attach along a copy of the receipt of the registry you sent, a copy of the notice sent in the registry as well as a copy of the receipt of the transaction over which a conflict has arisen. A case CANNOT be filed in a consumer court if you have misplaced or were not given the receipt to a transaction you made. This should be an eye-opener for all those people who do not care to take a receipt for their purchase(s) made before leaving the counter. The importance of a receipt, even minuscule in size, is monumental; it is the ONLY proof of you spending vast amounts of your hard-earned money, there is NOTHING else out there that would prove it, so be careful! You also need to take along the defected item to the court, unless it is a service you are not satisfied with, to show to the Honorable Judge, the proof of your grievance so that it can be inspected for the same. Also, attaching a copy of your CNIC is required for purposes of identification. Having these documents, you should then make three sets of them, i.e. two photocopies of the complete set of documents and buy yourself a plain paper file in which the sets would be submitted to court. Like I said, these are actions related to formality and these have to be undertaken for matters pertaining to the courts.

It is advised that you go through the Punjab Consumer Protection Act [2005] before starting the legal proceedings so that you have a better idea of your rights as well as the limitations of the law. A copy is easily available over the World Wide Web and it is also not very long so you can comfortably go through all of it in a short amount of time without feeling psychologically burdened.

The next step is to be present on the first hearing in the court on the date given by it. The defendant will be sent a notice by the court to be present in court on the said date along with the complainant [you]. The copies of the notices have to be provided by the complainant and provided to the consumer court so keep a dozen copies of them as they will come in handy. If the defendant fails to be present in court on the date given out, he or she will be given another notice, failing which, “bail-able arrest warrants” for the defendant would be issued. If the defendant fails yet again, “NON-bail-able” arrest warrants would be issued and the defendant would be forced to appear in court on the date determined by the court.

The Consumer Courts are assisted by the local Police that have the task of giving out notices and making arrests.

The time-frame for the Court to make a final decision over any case is six-months MAX, which is pretty acceptable considering the time that cases take for resolution particularly in the Civil Courts.

If you win the case, you can file claims for a full refund of the defected item as well as all the additional cost that you had to incur to get justice that includes the legal fee of a lawyer if you hired one, your transportation cost for being present on hearings, the legal documentation cost or any other cost that you had to incur to receive justice. However, the court may ask of you to provide textual proof of the cost you incurred which you will have to provide, especially in the case of you hiring a lawyer.

When choosing to hire a lawyer however, it is very important to go for a SOLID reference since lawyers themselves can be very “obnoxious” in their “habits”. While hiring a lawyer, ask of the lawyer to keep you apprised of all and any developments in the case. Remember to keep copies of the notices sent by him or her on your behalf as well as the receipts of the legal notices being sent via courier or PakPost registry. Demand to take a look at the notices before they are sent and make amendments if you think they are necessary. The lawyer will require an affidavit, signed and stamped on a stamp paper that would allow him to appear on your behalf in court. Alternatively, you can be present in court ALONG WITH the lawyer and keep track of every single legal activity while taking benefit of his legal expertise. However, IT IS possible to win a case in a consumer court without the help of a lawyer, as my experience is witness to the claim.

You would definitely get a deep blow to your perception of justice not being imparted in Pakistan if you knock at any of the Consumer Courts in the country. If your complaint is genuine; that you have actually been robbed off your money and if you also fulfill all the legal formalities required of you, then , there is nothing stopping you from winning the case. Try giving it a shot, it is worth it!