Bench-bar tiff assumes alarming proportions

Pakistan Bar Council urges lawyers to act with wisdom


Hasnaat Mailk August 23, 2017
PHOTO: EXPRESS

ISLAMABAD: With the bench and the bar pitched against each other over a Lahore High Court (LHC) order for the arrest of a lawyers’ leader, maintaining discipline in the legal fraternity comes up as a big challenge for the superior judiciary.

When Justice Mansoor Ali Shah was appointed as LHC chief justice, legal experts expected revolutionary changes in the judiciary, under him.

Interestingly Justice Mansoor – who was appointed LHC judge by former Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry on September 15, 2009 – was an active member during the lawyers’ movement in 2007.

Soon after taking oath as LHC chief justice last year, Justice Mansoor took several steps to end a culture of violence among lawyers in the courtroom, but it seems as if he is facing serious hurdles from within.

After taking charge as LHC chief justice, he constituted a disciplinary committee – headed by him and comprising six other judges through a notification. However, the lawyers’ disciplinary bodies strongly reacted to the formation of the committee.

Police fire tear gas, water cannon to disperse enraged lawyers outside LHC

Later, the chief justice agreed to amend the notification, wherein it was stated that the basic aim of the supervisory committee would be to identify cases of the lawyers’ grave misconduct and refer them to a lawyers’ disciplinary committee.

Once he disclosed that the national exchequer had suffered a huge loss of Rs450 million due to strikes by lawyers in different bar associations of Punjab in the first three months of 2017.

Even the LHC chief justice introduced a number of reforms on the judicial side. He also formed a WhatsApp group in order to get connected with all 36 district and sessions judges of Punjab who had been reporting to him about their official progress on a daily basis.

The chief justice said that after examining their daily reports, he had noticed that the biggest hurdle in the way to dispensation of justice were the strikes called by lawyers.

He also said it was now time for similar steps on the bar’s side because the justice system was facing difficulties due to lawyers’ misconduct and their strikes in the province.

Bar and bench: Lawyers condemn bar resolution against judges

It is learnt that 80% of the lawyers’ protests were not related to any complaints against judges or the judicial administration, but to government functionaries or other social issues.

Few incidents had been reported wherein lawyers went on a strike against the conduct of a judge.

A study of the first three months of the current year (January to March) conducted by him revealed 948 incidents of strike due to which 600,000 cases were affected and 100,000 cases could not be decided.

Likewise, it was admitted that superior bars were unable to sort out issues related to the lawyers’ misconduct.

Legal experts believe there are many reasons for the lawyers to go against the LHC chief justice.

One major group of lawyers has started criticising the LHC chief justice for allegedly ignoring their group members in the appointment of new LHC judges last year.

“Yes, one lawyers group is not happy with the chief justice because he did not accommodate [even] a single lawyer belonging to this section,” a senior lawyer told The Express Tribune.

Likewise, representatives of bars, which are situated in southern Punjab were also annoyed with the chief justice, saying no lawyer belonging to that area was considered for elevation as LHC judge.

Lawyers belonging to different divisions are also unhappy with him for overturning their request to form new benches of the LHC in those areas.

With neither the LHC CJ nor the legal fraternity ready to budge from his position, the stalemate between the bench and the bar continues, requiring the intervention of Chief Justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar.

Legal experts believe that it is a coincident that Justice Nisar has been hearing cases at the Lahore registry. It will be better if he takes cognizance of the matter immediately.

PBC concerned

The Pakistan Bar Council (PBC) has expressed regrets over the clash between the bar and the bench.

PBC vice chairman Muhammad Ahsan Bhoon and executive committee chairman Chaudhry Hafeezur Rehman issued a statement, urging the lawyers to act with wisdom and not to politicise the unfortunate position taken by those bent upon using violent tactics to cow down the judiciary.

They also slammed the use of teargas and ‘brutal force’ on lawyers by the law-enforcement agencies. 

PBC politics: Tensions run high in wake of IHC restraining order

The two PBC representatives called upon the bench and the bar to exercise restraint. They pointed out that the writing was on the wall.

The statement said: “Senior lawyers and several bar leaders had warned the judiciary not to overlook several incidents of highhandedness by a group of lawyers. Instead, the judges glossed over such unpleasant behaviour. Their partiality towards a pressure group of lawyers emboldened them to carry forward their threatening posture from the subordinate courts to the High Courts.

“The gulf between the bar and the bench widened when judges ignored the sentiments of the bar on the ill-advised elevation of unsuitable candidates to the bench.

“Their discriminatory attitude towards the legal fraternity undermined respect for the dignity of the courts. This was exacerbated by the attitude of some judges who routinely humiliate lawyers. Some refuse to pass orders/judgements for painfully long periods of time after reserving their verdicts.”

The statement further states that it is critical at this juncture for lawyers to take stock of their own attitudes and for the judiciary to reflect upon its dealings with the bar and the selective use of the law of contempt.

“This should, by no means, condone acts of violence carried out by members of the legal fraternity. We believe in winning through persuasion and not through force.”

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