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Cult of the Black Coats

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The ancient proverb “unity is strength” was recently proven to be true by our lawyers fraternity. While the anecdote behind the proverb gave the moral to be united in the face of injustice, in the case of our lawyer fraternity, this unity was shown to enforce an injustice. With the unofficial removal of Judge Zawar Shaikh , the lawyers of Lahore Bar Association (LBA) have proven that undermining rules and regulations in Pakistan is okay, as long as you have the muscle to get away with it.

The most popular explanation given is that it was Government money that compelled the Lahore Bar Association to physically stop a judge from going to his courtroom and hurl verbal abuse at another. If that is true then what happened to those champions of the supremacy of law, who gave us the justice movement? They should have been standing up for Judge Zawar Shaikh, and for the implementation of proper rules and procedures.  But as things stand, Judge Zawar Shaikh has been singled out and made to bow down, where as our former champions of the judiciary movement, range from the unabashed supporters of the LBA (Ali Ahmad Kurd) to those who offer hugely qualified murmurs of protest (Aitzaz Ahsan).

Take for instance the case of Ms. Asma Jehangir; who can forget the footage of her screams of protest and shaking of fists at a contingent of baton wielding riot Police? It was a protest that started when the hair of a sitting Chief Justice was pulled. Police brutality in Pakistan is much worse than mere hair pulling, and given what we have seen, this hair pulling of Mr. Iftikhar Chaudhry was nothing. But what magnified the implications of this incident was the office that Mr. Chaudhry was holding, an office that demands respect as per our constitution. One could do nothing but admire the resolve of Ms. Jehangir when she stood up against the insult doled out to the highest court in Pakistan.

But this time, when the window pane of a High Court was broken by an angry mob, she termed it as the breakage of just a window pane. One should ask Ms. Jehangir, whether the hair pulling of Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry was just another hair pulling, if not, then how exactly is the window pane of the Lahore High Court, just another window pane? Using her logic, is it then fair to consider the 1997 attack on the Supreme Court, as just a bit of shouting done by some college kids?

Mr. Athar Minallah, the unofficial spokesperson of the judiciary movement is another champion from the past who is finding it hard to speak for justice this time. Although Mr. Minallah agrees that the damage done was a big crime, he makes the claim that it was a “third force” that was doing it. Even after shown footage of the President of LBA, being way past the security cordon of Lahore High Court and the statement of an eye witness reporter, Mr. Minallah kept insisting that it was a “third force” that was behind it all. What is even more tragic is that to prove his claim, he keeps repeating the statement of the accused as the ultimate proof of his innocence. As a lawyer Mr. Minallah must know that, the non guilty plea of a suspect is meaningless when there is undeniable evidence as well as witnesses contradicting it.

If there is one single person to whom the success of the Lawyers movement could be credited to, then it would undoubtedly be Mr. Aitzaz Ahsan. One also has to give him credit for being the most vocal amongst his judiciary movement colleagues in criticizing the attack on the LHC. But his criticism of the LBA was just a murmur compared to his clarion call in the defense of CJ Iftikhar Chaudhry, and for that reason his protest was completely ineffective as proven by the forced vacation of Judge Zawar Sheikh.

When asked to explain the violent streak of the new guard of the Lawyers leadership, Mr. Ahsan requested us Pakistanis to lower our expectations from the Lawyer fraternity. Apparently it was because of the norms prevalent in our society that the lawyers were acting this way. Ironically, the reasoning that he gave was no different than that given by those who legitimized the actions of Musharaf, by saying that we were not ready for democracy. It seems that the Lawyers movement proved those naysayers wrong in 2007, only to prove them right in 2010.

This loyalty of some of the most fearless and principled Pakistanis to their comrades, at the cost of their own integrity, is a reason for despair. The repercussions of Judge Sheikh’s transfer are going to be far reaching. For starters there is a huge incentive now for plaintiffs from Lahore to hire lawyers who are well placed with the LBA. Any judge disagreeing with this powerful group could be dismissed through a similar show of rowdiness or a mere threat of it. There is also now a big incentive for other bar associations to make their presence felt by browbeating judges in a similar way. While for the judges the future now holds substantiated fears of physical as well as career related consequences, if they gave decisions that were unfavorable to lawyers with high nuisance value. Not the ideal situation for a fair dispensation of justice and is very likely to aggravate the already appalling state of our legal system.

The televised appearances of these champions of the Lawyers Movement showed their criticism to be most vociferous about the bhangra done by a police inspector and the head wounds of a few lawyers. But they seemed oblivious to the fact that the real loss in this whole incident is the tarnishing of the legacy that these same lawyers were able to create so successfully back in 2007.

Appeared in Pakistan Today on the 12th of October 2010

Written by Imran Khan

November 11, 2010 at 5:49 pm

Posted in Judiciary

Lawless Lawyers of Lahore

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The attack on the Supreme Court of Pakistan in 1997 is probably one of the most shameful incidents in this country’s judicial history. Sadly, the memories of that incident were revived recently with an attack on the Lahore High Court (LHC). Unlike 1997, the attackers this time were not a group of college and university students, but instead were professional lawyers, led by Mr. Sajid Bashir the elected President of the Lahore Bar Association (LBA), an association that has a membership of around 17,000 individuals.

While the incident itself is shameless, the motivation behind it is downright ridiculous. The whole exercise was carried out to ensure the transfer of Judge Zawar Ahmed Shaikh. This wasn’t the first time that the LBA had taken matters into its own hands on this issue, back in July they had attacked the Session courts and had evicted Mr. Shaikh along with other Judges. Shockingly, as a response to that attack, the Chief Justice (CJ) of the LHC, Justice Khwaja Muhammad Sharif, supposedly promised the riled up leadership of LBA that Mr. Shaikh would be transferred. It was perhaps that leniency in July that emboldened the LBA to target the CJ this time.

But, thanks to the resolve of the few Policemen who were responsible for Justice Khwaja’s safety, the mob wasn’t able to reach his courtroom. If they had, there is a chance that we might have seen a treatment much worse than the hair pulling of Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry. However, the mob of lawyers did manage to physically assault the registrar of the LHC. Subsequently, on the complaint of the judges of LHC, the Police rounded up the top leadership of the LBA.

In anticipation of a backlash, the authorities imposed section 144 on the very next day. As feared, the lawyers did defy the ban and tried to carry out a procession. According to reports, the Police initially cordoned off the building of Aiwan i Adal and tried to keep the lawyers inside. But as a response to the hurling of stones and bottles from the inside, the Police had to move in.

Surprisingly, this action of the police that left a dozen or so lawyers injured became the main focus of this issue, overshadowing the earlier attack on the LHC. The judges of Lahore High Court, in a sudden turnaround, called for an immediate release of all the suspects. While the Supreme Court also took notice of the incident and demanded an explanation from the IG of Punjab.

The consequences of this turnaround by the LHC were seen the very next day, when the lawyers, led by the freshly released Mr. Bashir, again defied Section 144, and this time directly attacked the police as well as media personnel. Video footage beamed on various channels showed unarmed policemen being beaten mercilessly by a group of lawyers using, shoes, stones and police helmets.

With these appalling visuals, came the equally appalling justifications. The most ridiculous of these is the notion that a “third force” or a fringe element of the lawyer fraternity is carrying out this violence. In this regard, it is completely unfair to quote the President of LBA’s denial as the ultimate proof of his innocence. Independent media reports clearly indicate that the leadership of LBA was involved in the initial attack on the Sessions Courts as well as the recent one on the LHC. Furthermore, the criticism of this incident from the likes of Athar Minallah and Eatzaz Ahsan has been responded with bans on them by the LBA. If Mr. Minallah and Mr. Ahsan represent the mainstream of the legal fraternity in Lahore, then how are their words completely rejected through the approval of unanimous motions by elected representatives?

In terms of setting precedents, these actions of the LBA have far reaching consequences for the future of judicial independence in Pakistan. There is a dire need to give a reality check to these new heirs of the Lawyers Movement of Pakistan. Their past struggle against a military dictatorship does not give them the right to impose their own form of dictatorship. If Mr. Bashir and Associates were punished properly after their initial attack on the Sessions Court, this recent attack on the High Court might have been averted. Similarly, if these vigilantes go unpunished again, we shouldn’t be surprised if the Supreme Court of Pakistan suffers the same fate in the near future.

Appeared on the 9th of October 2010, in Pakistan Today

Written by Imran Khan

November 11, 2010 at 12:46 pm

Posted in Judiciary

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