Two years ago when determined men and women, clad in black coats, marched down the streets of Pakistan in the face of police brutality, they stirred up the long dead hope that a new era where the rule of law held supreme was dawning. With this movement, the belief that a positive societal transformation had started, began to take root. Pakistanis’ proudly claimed that this struggle had transformed lawyers into champions of the rule of law instead of the rule of personal or group whim, which has dominated and destroyed Pakistani institutions for decades.
Two years later, the same lawyers are marching down the same roads but for different reasons; to demand the transfer of a civil judge. They are no longer reminiscent of the valiant flag bearers of the civil society force that marched for the rule of law. As they attack judicial officers, police and media people performing their duties, the flag bearers of the rule of law movement seem to have thrown down their standards and turned back the progress made by the earlier struggle.
While most people have focused attention on the violent confrontation between the police, lawyers and media persons, little attention has been given to the legitimacy of the initial demand that escalated into institutional confrontation. Demanding en-masse, marching in the streets or attacking the offices of judges does not constitute due process for complaining against a judge. Demanding the transfer of a judge is not within the legal or moral rights of members of the bar.
If the legal community has a lawful complaint against a judge, a complaint should be filed with the competent judicial authority and its subsequent decision should be accepted with the authority that is granted to it by the constitution. Lawyers cannot be allowed to become judge, jury and executioner.
Lawyers turning against the principles they stood for a few years ago, is emblematic of a graver and more problematic reality. The lawyers’ movement for the restoration of the independent judiciary has not produced the kind of social transformation that we had hoped for. It was not the turning point in our history that many claimed it to be. We remain a lawless nation ruled by personal and group interests with scant regard for the law.
The rule of law stands damaged and diminished, as those who had campaigned for its restoration have become crusaders for an unlawful demand. The step we had taken in the right direction has been nullified by this awful stumble backwards. And with the baring of the ugly face of the legal community, we have been reminded that it was just that, a step. And that the real work still needs to be done.
We must remember that sustainable change is not created overnight. It is not produced by headline making street revolutions. It is produced by the much more unglamorous policy changes that Pakistan has been avoiding and been unable to implement in many of its institutions, including bar councils. Years of corruption, mismanagement and utter disregard for merit, were unlikely to disappear with a couple of long marches. While the revolution was successful in bringing dignity and authority to the offices of the superior judiciary, it ignored the other policy imperative of sustainable change; reform of the other side of the judicial coin – the bar councils. If the leaders of the lawyers’ movement are committed to establishing the rule of law, then they must now turn their efforts to weeding out the corrupt and incompetent elements in the local bar councils that mar the dignity of the legal profession.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 7th, 2010.
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