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Monday, April 15, 2024

Pakistan’s lawyers: Law officers of the court or business entrepreneurs?

The continuously delayed hearings, slow wheels of justice, impossible levels of incompetency in documentation and usage of precedents and rules of law, all lead to a growing sense of failure in Pakistan's legal system.

The most highlighted incident at this moment in the legal and feminist world, of Pakistan, is the case of Zahir Jaffer v The State. So it is a matter of public interest, that recently, the plaintiff (Zahir Jaffer) in a pompous tone demanded privacy in the courtroom and ordered the removal of the media from the courtroom.

In any respectable court, no criminal usually has the gall to make such gestures. Hence, we should look at the issue that lets judges, civil servants and low-ranked officials fall prey to such deep pocketed individuals.

Pakistan: culture of bribery as part of life

It has gradually become a business practice, in Pakistan, to pay off certain officials, low-ranking police, customs, and provincial officers, to lessen hindrance and provide favoritism to said business or individual. Initially, this was a flawed form of practice, against which many spoke. However, now it is considered a necessary cost to run a business. We first allowed this to become a common practice and with little to no resistance, we have allowed it to worsen. The rates of blackmail, however, depend on the individuals being bribed.

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In the legal world, due to the excess of legal practitioners, making a name is somewhat similar to tribal politics. That name whence cashed, allows lawyers to be approached via word of mouth from high ranking officials and prospering businessmen. They then make it a mission to prolong litigation and court hearings – usually not appearing at all for a few months – and print more receipts per document and presence at court. This tends to be an amount enough to either apply for immigration, buy a car, or merely have their household bills and items sorted for the next few years; again, it all depends on the individual making his demands.

Bar Councils of Punjab and Islamabad: Dens of corruption!

The continuously delayed hearings, slow wheels of justice, impossible levels of incompetency in documentation and usage of precedents and rules of law, all lead to a growing sense of failure in the justice system.

Thus, the natural question arises, what possibly could be the solution? The problem in finding this solution is, that by now the ubiquitous practice of bribes and “business operation cost” has turned it into a pandemic from top to bottom of the operation chain of command.

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Failed courts: Can there be incentives for efficiency? 

The maintenance of decorum in the courtroom is the duty of a judge. A judge will consider it contempt of court, misconduct, a hindrance to trial, etc if a courtroom becomes messy or unbelievably manic. Clients, accused, and media do not dictate the atmosphere of the court to their liking. After all, these are the courts of justice, not the parlor rooms in Shah Jehan’s Palace.

Similarly, for decorum, it is the judge’s duty to assure that lawyers conduct themselves in a proper fashion. If an advocate has disappeared and has not pleaded his case – then the judge needs to inform the client of the abuse being done by the lawyers and insist on a change of consul. Judges, especially in lower courts, are fully aware of such practices however they do not chase or solve this hindrance to an ongoing case, rather they simply pass final notices, which no one except a client takes seriously. To motivate the judges, the state must provide some sort of incentive to allow the pursuit of speedy justice.

This incentive must be proper with checks and balances, as some judges may complete cases purely for the benefit – a contradiction in the Pakistani workforce across the board. If judges disallow the pursuit of speedy justice, then advocates or clients must have a forum where a higher body may penalize a judge harshly for delaying justice. Delayed justice in high-profile cases is practically a political war. Many individuals get involved from behind closed doors to counterbalance the judge’s favor – hence the rule of law is totally ignored. Even though this may be the case, if harsh punishments had existed for delayed justice then things could have been somewhat better.

Failed Justice System: Let’s move on with solutions

Give the lawyers certain merit. Give the judges a certain incentive. Clean the courtrooms and develop the lower courts from being rundown buildings – with rats the size of cats crawling about as if it were the bazaars of old Lahore into something that looks like an office of the state. Create an environment where a lawyer may look forward to coming into a court to comfortably plea his case and whereby a judge is honored to do his job.

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A black badge on a car is too small an incentive to give a judge reason to move. If stipends and salaries are low- as they are – then the ill-practice of sledging clients and taking every penny one can from high profile individuals will only grow into a culture. This will make it impossible for any moral or ethical minded advocate to pursue his or her career with passion, pride and prowess.

A cross cutting method of checks and balances – along with the stick and carrot approach – may develop the legal system wonderfully. Revamping of lower courts, teaching of discipline and ethics in classrooms and developing handbooks to be given to the lawyers upon enrolment and disallowing ill practices to prosper will help. These, to some, may sound either very minor changes or idealistic; however, these minor and easy-to-do things will end up changing the legal system – let’s begin!

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The author is a practicing lawyer in Pakistan, after completing his legal education from London, UK. He provides digital legal services @legalopinion1 and tweets at @AsadAHussain1. The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.