GVS Exclusive: Barrister Shoaib Razzaq discusses role of Bar Associations in Pakistan’s legal community

The Islamabad High Court Bar Association is about to have its elections. In order to discuss the role of Bar Association in Pakistan’s legal community and public discourse and the challenges faced by it, Editor GVS Dr. Moeed Pirzada is joined by Barrister Shoaib Razzaq, a legal professional with decades of experience, who is a candidate running for the position of President this year.


Editor GVS Dr. Moeed Pirzada is joined by Barrister Shoaib Razzaq, a legal professional with decades of experience, who is a candidate running for the position of President this year.

Dr. Moeed Pirzada: What is the significance of the Bar Associations?

Barrister Shoaib Razzaq: Well, historically, Bar Associations are associations of lawyers. The prime objective is to create professional competence in lawyers, having the highest ethical standards, with the notion that you are there to provide service to the public and the rule of law. These were the four things on the basis of which bar associations were created.

Dr. Moeed Pirzada: Has the bar associations in Pakistan totally failed in providing ethics, and education, or even in having a relationship between the Bar Associations and the public at large?

Barrister Shoaib Razzaq: Very sadly, we have to accept that the Bar Associations, as far as the main objective is concerned, have failed badly.

Dr. Moeed Pirzada: Why do you think they failed?

Barrister Shoaib Razzaq: It is not only the Associations, but legal education also was not given its due importance, and certainly, legal education was not top-of-the-line education. When Islamabad was established as the capital, there was no provision for a judicial complex. Let’s not even talk about a lawyers complex.

Read more: Pakistan Towards 2030 – Desperate need for legal and judicial reforms

Dr. Moeed Pirzada: What do you mean by a Judicial Complex?

Barrister Shoaib Razzaq: It is a court structure. Islamabad has courts in rented premises. The commitment of the state towards the legal system in Islamabad is that they are operating from rented premises, and people have actually filed petitions against the courts to vacate their property. One of the courts in Islamabad actually ordered against its own premises because it had actually possessed the property illegally. The courts in Islamabad look like shops. Go to any other city, and it has a proper judicial complex where you have courts and you have places for lawyers to sit.

Dr. Moeed Pirzada: How did this situation develop, that Islamabad had courts but not premises?

Barrister Shoaib Razzaq: The courts started in the 1980s, whereas Islamabad was made the capital in the 1960s. In Islamabad’s Master Plan, there was no provision for a court in the capital. There was a plan for everything, like parks, hospitals, and schools, but not for Judicial courts. At the moment, Chief Justice Islamabad High Court is making plans to have a judicial complex in G-10.

The Islamabad High Court premises are not the judiciary complex. High Court premises are supposed to be for the district court. As far as a High Court building is concerned, it is under construction on Constitution Avenue. This was a city built for rulers who never thought Islamabad would be cosmopolitan.

Read more: Judicial Reforms: Pakistan’s need of the Hour

Dr. Moeed Pirzada: So, there was a military government under Ayub Khan who created a beautiful city for themselves with more than 100 parks planned across this F-6, F-7 and G-6, yet they never imagined the city would probably need a court. Could it be that the city’s Deputy Commissioner had magisterial power in those days?

Barrister Shoaib Razzaq: They had administrative powers; judicial powers cannot be exercised by any bureaucrat as per the Constitution. The official High Court for a litigant based in Islamabad was Rawalpindi High Court until 2010. The issue is that the concept of a judicial system never existed in Islamabad. The basic High Court was established in 2010. Before that, the people of Islamabad had to go to Rawalpindi to deal with legal matters. Every tehsil had its judicial complex built by the British Raj.

Dr. Moeed Pirzada: If Islamabad did not have a court, what was happening in Lahore and Rawalpindi? Was the executive magistrate also looking into murder cases and such legal matters? What was the goal of the executive magistrate -the Deputy Commissioner?

Barrister Shoaib Razzaq: Absolutely, people were asked to go to the Rawalpindi courts. Deputy Commissioners would have dealt with minor issues of administrative nature, but all the criminal or contentious issues cannot be dealt with by the magistrate. Mostly, the people used to go to Rawalpindi.

Dr. Moeed Pirzada: Back to the present problem, the district courts are sitting in rented premises, the owners of which want the courts to leave the properties they demonstrate against the courts. So, there are a lot of disputes. So, what can you do if you were elected as the President of the Islamabad Bar Association?

Barrister Shoaib Razzaq: This is an issue that the legal fraternity is facing in Islamabad right now. You have failed to provide them with a very conducive environment to operate. Hence, the Bar Association members have not been able to do their job competently. Bar Association owns papers, but it does not have anything.

The quality of the law colleges, or the quality of the degree, matters too. Currently, our syllabus is not equipped to train well for this profession. The syllabus was insufficient even in the days before 1947, the British Raj. In the Indian syllabus, there is drafting, advocacy, and ethics, whereas our syllabus just talks about basic statutes of law. The system is basically testing the memory capacity of the students.

Dr. Moeed Pirzada: India and Pakistan were part of the same legal jurisdiction, so how did this situation develop?

Barrister Shoaib Razzaq: Legal education and the legal profession was not the main priority in this country. We never thought that the judicial system is needed, and it was never developed. I started a training course in 2008 with the help of the German Embassy to train female lawyers. We conducted a survey, where we concluded that 70 percent of female law graduates are not practicing their profession. The situation was that the only so-called training was available on the premises of Katcheri. So, parents were extremely reluctant to send their young girls to Katcheri. We sort of created a way that we are going to train them in secure premises, and then the bar council is going to provide them with the license. This happened in 2008.

This month, Supreme Court has ordered that unless you train young professionals, young law graduates right on certain issues, you cannot give them any license. That includes drafting, opinion, ethics, and professional competence. We started this campaign back in 2008. You need to make sure that the young person who is joining this profession is well-equipped with drafting skills, ethics, opinion, and advocacy. So, you can check the level of commitment on an individual basis.

I was sent to England; I am a barrister. That is an individual commitment of my family to make sure that I operate at a certain level, but the state-run institutions in Pakistan are not equipped with the syllabus or even with the faculty to train people for the profession. If I am elected as President, I will make sure these conversations start. You need to not only educate young lawyers but also need to equip them for the profession. I receive pupils from LUMS, Bahria University, and Islamic University, and let me tell you this thing, very sadly, even bright kids are not equipped with the necessary requisites of the profession.

Read more: Pakistan’s legal system is on the verge of collapse?

Dr. Moeed Pirzada: I remember before the LUMS law school came into existence with this five-year law degree, in the 1980s and 1990s, I used to hear that people would register themselves in a particular law college or school in Karachi, and they would actually be living somewhere in Punjab. Their attendance will be marked in the end, and they will go hire someone else to take the exam. This was the situation in the Basic Law degree. Has the situation changed in terms of getting the degree?

Barrister Shoaib Razzaq: There is a growing awareness amongst stakeholders. There are people in the field who are eager to make sure that they do something which is beneficial for the young generations to come. We are lacking so much in this profession. And that is why there is resentment in the public as far as lawyers’ conduct is concerned. Professional competence is the most important aspect because if a lawyer is competent, you very rarely find ethical issues with them. If a lawyer cannot earn a loaf of bread, there will be ethical issues. The syllabus should be approved by the Bar Council, and the members of the Bar Council itself should be well-qualified.

Dr. Moeed Pirzada: How many members does Islamabad Bar Association have?

Barrister Shoaib Razzaq: We have about 2,700 people.

Dr. Moeed Pirzada: So, 2,700 people are going to vote in this election. Do all members vote?

Barrister Shoaib Razzaq: I would say 70 percent of the people vote. Officeholders include the President, Vice President, General Secretary, and Joint Secretary. There are some other cabinet members.

Dr. Moeed Pirzada: Does every slot have two candidates by rule or by convention?

Barrister Shoaib Razzaq: There is no compulsion, so if someone is interested in being the candidate, the room is open for them. But mostly, only two candidates are contesting the election.

Dr. Moeed Pirzada: How has the Bar Association introduced such a civilized principle with only two candidates contesting for a certain seat?

Barrister Shoaib Razzaq: Bar election has become very tedious, and it is not an easy task. So, people, who want to enter this race, assess the pros and cons and the sort of work and commitment they will need to show. So, not everyone is interested.

Dr. Moeed Pirzada: Do you think that the bar election should also be held on electronic voting machines as a practice pilot project with the election commission?

Barrister Shoaib Razzaq: Bar Association elections are happening every year. There has not been any complaint as far as voting is concerned. Lahore Bar Association is the oldest in the country. It was established in 1882. Supreme Court Bar Association was established in 1989. In Pakistan, Lahore Bar Association is the biggest, and it can play a very important role. Lahore took this initiative of legal education, and the Lahore Bar Association has more than 35,000 members.

Dr. Moeed Pirzada: So, in the United States, for instance, you will get a license to practice when you take a proper exam for the New York bar, which is a very prestigious exam. Is there no concept of a competitive exam for the bar here?

Barrister Shoaib Razzaq: Absolutely no; they have started basic education, after which you need to go for the test, and then an interview is conducted by some members of the bar council.

 Dr. Moeed Pirzada: Why even after 70 years, there is no real trend for competitive exams for the bar?

Barrister Shoaib Razzaq: As I mentioned earlier, this was the level of commitment of the state to a judicial system that they never thought was needed. There are people who would finish their LLB in two years and then get their licenses and operate in the courts. Things are improving, but there is a lot more to do.

Dr. Moeed Pirzada: How can we launch the idea that there should be a proper exam for bars?

Barrister Shoaib Razzaq: These tests have started, but I want them to start for the High Court and the Supreme Court as well. Currently, there is this concept of the interview, and some people are using discretion to give a license. It’s a very informal interview wherein you can be liked or disliked by someone, but there is no genuine process.

Dr. Moeed Pirzada: Why do you want to run for the bar president?

Barrister Shoaib Razzaq: I have experienced that young lawyers work very hard, and their parents are very eager to see their young kids become lawyers, but there is no proper structure to train them for the profession. A young pupil who has done an LLB in three or five years does not know anything about the profession. That has been my main concern.

Read more: Why Bar Associations need to be reformed?

Dr. Moeed Pirzada: We also have the University of London’s lawyers. What would you say about that?

Barrister Shoaib Razzaq: LLB in England and JD in America are followed by a bar exam. Whereas, in Pakistan, you finish your LLB, and you are entitled to a license. So, there is no compulsory training course. And then there is a hurdle of pupilage- if you do not secure any pupil, you cannot get any license in the UK. Consequently, here you are not equipped for the profession, and even if you are in the profession, you find it very difficult to make ends meet. I am campaigning for my election, and I have come across students who do not have the professional competence to attract clients. They cannot even draft a simple petition, and they are not professionally equipped. If I cannot do anything, at least I am going to start a conversation.

The second most important thing is that there is a growing resentment towards this legal profession. I would love to have a conversation with the judge as a representative of the Bar Association. What can we do to improve the trust of the public in our profession? I, as a very humble lawyer, believe that I have contributed to that mess as well. There are two big pillars, the bench, and the bar. They need to sit together and raise the issues and discuss what we can do to improve public trust in this judicial system. Lawyers all over the world are part of every transaction because if there is confidence in the judicial system, people are going to ask you to come and provide them with the service. My concern is not only the logistical issue of providing the judicial complex but also bringing the trust of the public in the judicial system.

Dr. Moeed Pirzada: What are the main challenges you have identified for yourself, which is your commitment to the lawyers in Islamabad, that if you were elected with the vote, you would work on those issues, and you only have one year?

Barrister Shoaib Razzaq: I think there is a growing awareness about the problems. Everyone is aware of the issues, but I think that we need to start working on them. I am not going to sit with a judicial officer to discuss the elevation of any lawyer into the judiciary. I am going to make sure that we facilitate the public and work for justice.

Dr. Moeed Pirzada: What is your number one priority?

Barrister Shoaib Razzaq: My personal top number one priority is professional competence, which is the most important aspect of a lawyer’s life. If a lawyer is professionally competent, there will not be any problem as far as ethical issues are concerned. Competent lawyers are going to devote their lives for the rule of law. So, my commitment is to make sure that the professionals are equipped to work competently.

I started this campaign back in 2008. I am going to make sure that my doors are open for every person who wants to be equipped with the right sort of skills. I have a lot of people who are more than willing to fund us for training programs.

International institutions have already approached us. When I started in 2008, I was very young. I just made one submission and visited the district court’s premises, and we started training female lawyers from Chitral, Karachi, Azad Kashmir, etc. After that, no training has happened.

Dr. Moeed Pirzada: Lawyers might have other issues on their minds, like building, and accommodation, while you are only talking about training them and improving the services. This looks like a more egalitarian thing. But the lawyers might like to elect a president who wants to give them offices, convenience, better relationship with police, etc. What do you think?

Barrister Shoaib Razzaq: I think this is not the responsibility of the state or a Bar Association to provide them with any of the offices. I never asked anyone to provide me with an office. I have my own chamber, and I started on a very basic level. The idea is to provide them with logistical support, but my issue is deeper than this; if a lawyer is not equipped to provide the clients with anything, he is not going to be able to survive. If you want them to survive in this tough and tedious environment, equip and train them. Even if this is a difficult slogan to sell, I have no issue.

Read more: Understanding the Elections and Bar reform

Dr. Moeed Pirzada: What is your promise to the young lawyers?

Barrister Shoaib Razzaq: There are a lot of allegations against me, but I cannot be a hypocrite. I believe I am going to tell them the real story. I am a very pragmatic and realistic man. I am going to tell them that this is one of the best professions in the world, and if you know your skills, no one can stop you. I love my life, and I enjoy my life. Maybe you know better than other people, and it is only because of this profession. I passionately believe in this profession. I worked, and God has given me everything because of this profession. I was educated in England. I was called to the bar in England. It has been a good 25 years. I cannot be so grateful to my providence.

Dr. Moeed Pirzada: What actually happens in the Bar Association election? Do people vote for a President only on the basis of ideas?

Barrister Shoaib Razzaq: Sadly, I would not say that. However, as a passionate lawyer, I can say that the voters, despite the fact that many would be more than interested in a lot of lunches and dinners, they understand whenever I talk to them because they are genuine professionals. I tell them that they need to be equipped and that if they are equipped, this is such a great profession.

Dr. Moeed Pirzada: Many people feel and think that the English legal system has not really delivered for Pakistan, for example when Swat was integrated into the Pakistani legal jurisdiction, people were disappointed because they were not getting the quick justice that they were getting from Swat Courts or Qazi system. They feel the same thing will happen in FATA, where perhaps some sort of rough justice existed before the English court system. What are your thoughts on that?

Barrister Shoaib Razzaq: I believe that the current judicial system has a lot of problems, but it is not as authoritarian as those you have mentioned. I need to lay down the law, and on the basis of that law, I am judged guilty or not. When you talk about a small village, a small area, you can run that sort of system which you have talked about, but when the society is bigger, such as cities with cosmopolitan people have different interests. The same system is very effective in the UK and every other Commonwealth country because they believe in the jury. Here, there has not been any investment in the judicial system, and a simple piece of paper cannot deliver for you on the basis of certain laws. That is a sad truth.

HOLD ON! BEFORE YOU CONTINUE with your routine, ponder this: How probable is it that the article you've just finished would have been created by another news agency if Global Village Space hadn't taken the initiative?

Imagine a media landscape devoid of Global Village Space. Who would keep the political elite in check, upholding the values they claim to embrace? How many hidden covert operations, injustices, and dystopian technologies would stay concealed if our journalists weren't actively pursuing the truth?

The type of journalism we conduct is crucial to a functioning democracy, but it's neither simple, inexpensive, nor profitable. Global Village Space operates as an independent nonprofit news outlet.

We stand free from corporate influences. Would you support us?

Latest news