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Friday, May 17, 2024

Untouchables – Lawyers and the writ of law

The PIC incident at Lahore has shocked many and exposed the fall of the lawyer profession. This article tried to explain the real problems afflicting the legal fraternity, why incidents like PIC Lahore take place and offered some solutions in the hope that something good may come out of this.

Opinion |

Lawyers are a strange breed. Unpredictable, mysterious and arrogant, some may say. You will see them fighting for a cause or siding with an oppressor, offering services to promote justice or to empower injustice. That, in a nutshell, is what lawyers do. And in this part of the world, lawyers have amassed such a strong influence that they have now virtually become the notorious Untouchables.

In this piece, I would like to identify the raison d’etre for the ills that have besieged our legal fraternity in the hope and search of that nobility which was once the hallmark of this profession. I know many lawyer colleagues out there will probably disagree on many points discussed here. That is expected and appreciated.

After all, professional lawyers with all the fire and fervor at their command, are trained to accept dissent gracefully. Legal profession has this proven inherent ability to produce world class leaders. Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Abraham Lincoln, Mohandas Ghandhi and Nelsen Mandela changed the course of history. They were all lawyers.

As in the case of national elections, our bar elections too is a contest between the most affluent. Caste system too dominates the elections with Kasmiris, Jatts and Arian lawyers exercising influence.

History bears witness to the fact that after elevation to the bench, lawyers as judges have authored landmark judgments that advanced constitutionality, equality and rule of law. Lawyers inarguably have shaped the future of developed societies. Unfortunately, with the passage of time and general deterioration that followed, our legal profession too like other afflicted domains, stopped producing charismatic leaders.

The lawyers once known and admired for their acumen, professionalism, persuasive skills, leadership qualities, hard work and ethical approach, gradually acquired traits that have given them a questionable outlook. More disturbingly, lawyers know their perception in the public eye yet they make no effort to work on improving their image.

Regrettably, for ordinary people, a lawyer is now that dreaded villain in black coat. Perceived and seen as a master rogue frequently discredited for twisting and bending laws with ease. Too often one among the black coats, bursts on the TV screens while thrashing a policeman, rescuing a criminal or abusing a judge. Wukla gardi, they call it. That is how media paints and people see lawyers and we have done our part not to disappoint the two.

Read more: Lawyers attacked PIC: Terror & violence took three lives in Lahore?

State institutions avoid us. The neighborhood a lawyer occupies has illusionary signs to warn others when he is around. They relax when he is not. Tiptoeing by his abode the common folks whisper something into the ears of their curious young ones as if reminding them of the monster that dwells inside.

Landlords do not trust lawyers with their properties. Bankers do not trust us with their money. Even fathers quiver at the thought of marrying their innocent off spring to one of us. The judges consider us a bad karma. The bureaucrats keep their windows open, not for fresh air but as an escape route whenever we land up in their offices.

Lawyers and law enforcers too share a strange love-hate relationship and seniors on both sides are still confused who loves and who hates who in this queer relationship. We argue with fists. They respond with kicks. We pelt stones of ignorance. They fire bullets of fury. No one wins or loses this battle, though the energy is ecstatic.

Wukla gardi, they call it. That is how media paints and people see lawyers and we have done our part not to disappoint the two

People have come to believe that lawyers agitate and protest for their rights even when they are wrong. This is not largely untrue. As a matter of record let me clarify that all legal jurisprudence pales before the impact our slogans and strikes have! The movement for restoration of judges allowed lawyers to assume and enjoy a larger stake in the matters of national importance.

We demonstrated that lawyers could become a political force to reckon with. With our legal training and backgrounds, we could expose the misdeeds of government and demand legal action or swiftly initiate street movement, something obviously no government wants. I fully endorse that as an educated lot, lawyers should behave accordingly. As students of law and learned officers of the court no one expects us to usurp law.

We are law knowing, we should not break the law, is the generally accepted position but do all lawyers live by these principles? I am afraid not. Our legal profession is structured around the Pakistan Bar Council, Provincial Bar Councils and the Bar Associations. All these bodies elect lawyers as their members for a prescribed period of time.

Read more: Violence in the Courts: How can the Academy be helpful?

The Bar Councils and Bar Associations are entrusted with the task of regulating the legal profession and the conduct of lawyers. This self-regulation is in essence one of the hallmarks of this profession. The jurists in principle are people believed to do justice even in the matters involving their fellow fraternity members. The practice however, is quite different.This movement also left a negative impact on the legal profession.

Those leading the lawyer movement did not realize then that they had unleashed an insalubrious trend that would dominate the legal profession and lawyers for many years. Today, the lawyers instead of using their skills of persuasion resort to agitation as a means to get relief from courts and elsewhere. This has changed the dynamics of our profession.

The political culture of bar has also been effected immensely. In the last 15 years or so, the influence and unrestricted use of money in the Bar’s election campaign has changed the complexion of the electioneering, behaviour of the contestants and approach of the voters towards the elections. Today, it is generally believed that those with monetary might will be successful to woe the majority of voters in their favour.

People have come to believe that lawyers agitate and protest for their rights even when they are wrong. This is not largely untrue

The political culture prevailing at the national level has permeated the legal profession as well. Resultantly, the Bar Associations once presided by leading lawyers, were abdicated to lawyers with political leanings and heavy coffers. The lawyers and our fraternity leaders discreetly represent or stand by one political party or the other.

Today, in Bar’s elections, there is power politics and free flow of money. Anyone with strong political linkages, one who could muster or buy enough votes to muscle his group into power, will steal the spotlight. More votes means sure success. More votes also means more money required.

Politicians are known to have secretly opened their treasures to sponsor the Bar candidates’ election expenses which are in the range of Rs. 20-25 Million including the generous breakfasts, lunches and dinners for the voters. Here is where the malaise lies. As in the case of national elections, our bar elections too is a contest between the most affluent.

Read more: Fears of Student Activism: Revival of Student Unions in Pakistan

Caste system too dominates the elections with Kasmiris, Jatts and Arian lawyers exercising influence. The candidates hurl promises of establishing an independent strong bar, improved work conditions for lawyers, stipends for the young voters, who constitute the major chunk of the vote bank. Lawyers’ accountability is never mentioned or discussed.

Be it the young lawyer or an experienced practitioner both know the value of their vote and the power it wields. They support any candidate who once in power will not quiz them for their actions rather facilitate them at all times. The candidates willfully accept this convenient trade.Any new entrant in the legal profession understands that for survival he has to find refuge under the banner of one or the other political group.

This is an absolute must or else the young lawyer will find it almost impossible to sustain merely from his legal practice which, as he knows, will take many years to materialize into something substantial. The seniors of our profession are not known for their generosity, so a fresh apprentice has to explore other options.

Here is where the malaise lies. As in the case of national elections, our bar elections too is a contest between the most affluent

Once he realizes that his vote matters, the young lawyer indulges more in the political arena than the professional domain. This practice coughs up voters but fails to deliver lawyers with sound credibility, ability and capacity. This trend has had disastrous consequences for our profession. As stated above the lawyers regulate themselves. The Bar Associations and Bar Councils are entrusted with this responsibility.

However, both the associations and councils comprise of elected representatives. Unfortunately, these elected bodies lack in intent and purpose to penalize the deviant law professionals as they consider any move against one of them a risk to all of them. Thus votes are exchanged for negotiated immunity for the voters.

Even the honourable judiciary, at times seems helpless. Apart from a very few cases where the lawyer license was suspended by the superior courts, no meaningful accountability is seen elsewhere. We as professional lawyers must dispel the impression that self-regulation amounts to no-accountability. There have been fervent calls from the judiciary requesting lawyers to become part of the solution and not the problem but no notable progress has been made so far.

Read more: Model Courts: How a silent revolution in Pakistan’s judiciary transforming its course?

The legal profession is on the verge of collapse and if corrective measures are not taken this fall shall bring down the prestige of our superior judiciary as well. As a start, the number of law colleges must be regulated and if possible, curtailed. Their curricula and quality of education must be revamped. The lawyer enrollment process needs to be streamlined and made more effective in screening out the unwanted aspirants.

The accountability of lawyers must not remain within the exclusive domain of the lawyers. The lawyer representative bodies must remodel the entire election process as well as the race of electable by prescribing a strict code providing qualifications for candidates and limitations on their spending, with every violation met with an iron hand.

The legal profession must reset its direction. There is an urgent need for truly professional lawyers to take control of their profession. This is one case they must plead with full might at their command. They should come forward and assume ownership of the problem. Create a new political force, if required. Side tracking the issue has created an unwanted void fully exploited by the part timers.

Legal fraternity must groom real genuine heroes instead of pretentious look a-likes. We must accept that this is a serious situation that calls for deep introspection. Difficult but exemplary remedial steps must be taken. All stake holders especially the lawyers and judiciary must join hands in combating this institutional slide. Time is passing by and every minute spent in silence will add to the hour of despair.

This article is contributed by Faisal Zaman who is a fourth-generation lawyer with more than 24 years of standing at the bar. He can be reached at faisalzamanadv@gmail.com.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.