Law is a noble profession of learned people dedicated to the task of upholding the rule of law and defending, at all times, rights of people. Lawyers in Pakistan always stand for the rule of law. A section of lawyers, however, defame the legal profession by showing occasional disregard for law and legal institutions.
Recently, in an effort to establish circuit benches of the Lahore High Court, for instance, some lawyers harassed a public officer in Faisalabad. The Punjab Bar Council announced strikes to protest the creation of the benches. Notwithstanding the merit or demerit of this cause, one may ask from the members of the learned profession: can strikes not be called after court hours? Do strikes suit respected members of the bar, even as they pursue a noble cause of justice? And, finally, are strikes the only way to get the voice of the bar heard?
The demand for establishing high court benches in Sahiwal, Sargodha, Faisalabad, and Gujranwala is not illegal. It falls with the preview of the 1973 Constitution. Article 37(6) of the Constitution provides for inexpensive and expeditious justice to the people. The establishment of high court benches in districts, which are some distance from Lahore, will provide easier access to justice. Article 198 (4) of the Constitution provides a mechanism for the creation of high court benches as ‘‘each of the high courts may have benches at such other places as the governor may determine on the advice of the Cabinet and in consultation with the Chief Justice of the High Court.”
Deterioration of the legal profession may partly be attributed to the failure of the bar councils to implement relevant laws
As such, high court benches may be created under the Constitution. The cause of access to justice may be promoted through discussion at the forum of the bar. The bar should present their case before the bench through a constitutional petition (as access to justice is a fundamental right of the people) or should have a dialogue with the chief justice of the Lahore High Court and or the governor. In any case, the lawyers should argue their case on the basis of law. Unnecessary strikes in courts and pressure beyond the domain of law will damage the cause and reputation of the legal profession. It may adversely affect the interest of the bar. Our justice system already ranks at 105/113 in World Justice Project Rule of Law Index 2017-2018. Boycott of the court proceedings would have a negative impact on this worldwide ranking, decreasing international trust in our legal system.
As per Rule 2(c) of the Supreme Court Bar Association of Pakistan Rules (1989), one of the objects of the Supreme Court Bar Association is to ‘‘to maintain high professional standards of probity and integrity amongst its members and to check and eradicate unprofessional practices.” As per Section 3(d) of the Punjab Bar Council Memorandum of Association, one of the objects of the bar association is to ‘‘struggle for civil liberties, human rights, and the rule of law.” Rule 134 of the Pakistan Legal Practitioners and Bar Councils Rules, 1976 (the Rules 1976) further provides that ‘‘it is the duty of every advocate to uphold at all times the dignity and high standing of his profession, as well as his own dignity and high standing as a member thereof.”
Bar councils are mandated to regulate and reform the legal profession. Under Sections 9(c) of the Legal Practitioners and Bar Councils Act (1973), ‘‘The Provincial Bar Council shall entertain and determine cases of misconduct against advocates on its rolls and order punishment in such cases.” Section 13(d) provides that the Pakistan Bar Council shall ‘‘lay down standards of professional conduct and etiquette for advocates.”
There is a perception that a segment of our lawyers considers itself above the law, and the bar councils have failed to rebut this perception. Legal action against members facing complaints of misconduct is either slow or suspended. The actual number of these complaints and their outcome is not made public. Naturally, ineffective proceedings against lawyers weaken the bar and our justice system.
Deterioration of the legal profession may partly be attributed to the failure of the bar councils to implement the relevant laws. Poor entry and accountability procedures have allowed many who are not properly qualified in law and professional ethics to join and continue in the legal profession. Bar councils fail to provide regular and proper training to lawyers. Thus, lack of proper opportunities for professional training and growth, sometimes, lead young lawyers towards violence.
To promote professionalism, Sections 5-A (Qualifications for membership of a Provincial Bar Council), 5-B (Disqualifications for membership of a Provincial Bar Council), 5-C (Cessation of membership of Provincial Bar Council), 11-A (Qualifications for membership of Pakistan Bar Council), 11-B (Disqualifications for membership of Pakistan Bar Council), 11-C (Cessation of membership of Pakistan Bar Council) and 26 (Persons qualified for admission as advocates) of the 1973 Act, and Rule 108-A (k) (Certificate of training from the senior) of the Rules 1976, should be implemented to regulate the legal profession more effectively. The Pakistan Bar Council Free Legal Aid Scheme (1988), which provides for pro-bono services to the poor, destitute, orphans, widows, indigent and other deserving litigants could be used to engage and compensate young lawyers.
The Pakistan Bar Council should constitute a commission comprising of senior members of the bar to get misconduct complaints investigated and adjudicated far more quickly. The commission should also recommend reforms to regulate entry into the legal profession as well as a bi-annual review of bar licenses. Capacity building of young lawyers should be especially focused. Training, opportunity, and regulation of the bar would promote more access to justice than frequent strikes.
The writer is a lawyer