The chief justice of Pakistan (CJP) has urged the legal fraternity “to launch a movement for [the] restoration of the dignity of [the] legal profession.” Recalling the days when nobility was attached to the legal profession and lawyers and judges were highly respected, he emphasised the need for “self-introspection to preserve the nobility of this profession.” The CJP’s statement indicates an urgent need for reforms in the legal profession. In this regard, I focus on three institutions: law schools, bar councils, and lower judiciary.
Law schools play an important role in the education and training of lawyers. Barring a few exceptions, these are intellectual graveyards. Public-sector law colleges have failed to provide cutting-edge legal knowledge for various reasons, including the politicisation of the faculty and the pursuit of administrative positions, (losing a focus on research and teaching), out dated methods of teaching and examination, and poor training in legal drafting, analysis and advocacy. Many private legal institutions are like tuition centres. They are interested more in numbers and less in providing learning opportunities. Moreover, hasty and hot-headed intervention by the Pakistan Bar Council (PBC) and superior courts regarding the duration of a law degree, a fixed number of seats for admission in law schools notwithstanding their teaching quality and training capacity, and a nominal and numerical requirement of the faculty have further weakened law schools, eroding their space in legal-education policymaking.
Our lawyers and judges should listen to the CJP and other respected members of the bar. The bench and bar are wheels of the same chariot
The PBC and the superior courts have overwhelmingly focused on the quantity rather than the quality of legal education. Now, anyone with a poor faculty, but a fancy building can run a law school. Those who appreciate the merit and quality that come with strong faculty and intellectual engagement suffer. In my view, the focus should have been on the quality of teaching and legal research. Law schools should inculcate reading, logical thinking, and critical writing skills. They should enable the students to use technology, i.e. artificial intelligence, to cope with the emerging challenges in the legal profession.
The bar councils have a key role in training and regulating lawyers. The CJP lamented that “from 2007 to 2009, the legal community earned more respect as they championed… the independence of the judiciary,” but “the situation at present is not that rosy.” Lawyers have always struggled for the supremacy of the Constitution and the independence of the judiciary. However, bar councils seem to have lost their regulatory role due to over-politicisation, with the bar divided into factions who sometimes ignore the professional misconduct of their allies to win bar elections.
Some lawyers are said to be involved in misappropriating bar council funds and pressuring judges for dark motives (for example, getting court orders not warranted by the law). The bar councils need to look into these individual cases to uphold the dignity of the legal profession
At the same time, the historical role of lawyers cannot be denied. If Muhammad Ali Jinnah and Allama Iqbal struggled for the creation of Pakistan, certainly the members of the legal profession sacrificed whenever constitutionalism, rule of law and democracy suffered under martial law regimes. This profession produced great lawyers and humans like A.R. Cornelius, Amer Raza A. Khan, and Khalid Ishaque. Even now, there is no dearth of bright, honest, upright, and professional lawyers and judges. The bar councils need to initiate institutional reforms with the support of these lawyers and judges. They might initially face some resistance from those who want status quo. The traditional wisdom in the bench and bar may oppose innovation such as the integration of technology and automation of filing and handling of court cases. However, this reluctance can be converted into cooperation with continuous engagement with district bar councils and the judiciary. The ownership of these reforms can be sought at the grass-root level. The seminars at the district bars can help to educate the legal fraternity as to the importance of professional training and accountability and the use of technology etc. The PBC should also discuss legal reforms with the judicial policy makers and the government. Plato once said, “the price good men pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil men.” Right-thinking and young energetic lawyers can make a difference, with the support of senior members of the bar, by focusing on the training and accountability of lawyers.
The CJP has rightly emphasised the importance of ‘self-introspection.’ The standards of competence and integrity amongst judges continue to decline. Judicial misconduct and institutional overreach in matters of public importance—including matters of accountability itself—requires reform in the judiciary, starting with the accountability of judges themselves. More rigorous and transparent judicial accountability procedures that is, sharing the details of the proceedings of the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) with the PBC would enhance the integrity of our judiciary.
There is a perception that some members of the judiciary are not able to appreciate the niceties of the law and evidence, repeatedly failing to write reasoned judgments. For example, in Asia Bibi’s case, the CJP observed that the courts below had failed to notice apparent flaws in the evidence. He has consistently expressed dissatisfaction regarding the rudimentary performance of our courts. He said, “If the lower courts could deal with the matters carefully, many cases would not come to the apex court.” Sometimes, cases are admitted and relief is given to please certain members of the bar due to their clout. These cases create an unnecessary burden on the courts. If judges fail to maintain their neutrality in the so-called high-profile cases and pressure from political parties and individual bar members, the independence and integrity of the judiciary will be compromised.
Our lawyers and judges should listen to the CJP and other respected members of the bar. The bench and bar are wheels of the same chariot. We must improve the competence and restore the dignity of our justice system. This does not need any movement, but, an effective accountability within the existing mandate of the SJC and the bar councils.
The writer is a lawyer