Fissures in lawyers, media ties over PIC attack coverage

Experts say action against lawyers a test case for judiciary

Hasnaat Malik December 12, 2019

ISLAMABAD: The once cordial relations between lawyers and the media have seemingly reached a low point after Wednesday’s attack by the legal fraternity on the Punjab Institute of Cardiology (PIC) in Lahore.

Scores of lawyers stormed the PIC vandalizing the facility and thrashing everyone in sight apparently to “settle the score” with doctors who, they claimed, had attacked one of their colleagues and then disseminated a video clip ridiculing them.

Since the 2007 movement for the restoration of judges, both journalists and lawyers worked in tandem to uphold rule of law in the country.

When state authorities curbed media freedom, superior lawyer bodies voiced support for journalists, and provided them with legal aide.

However, it seems media’s continuous coverage of the PIC attack has annoyed representatives of the superior bar associations. Although they have condemned the conduct of fellow lawyers, it has been conveyed that “one-sided” picture was being portrayed, depicting them in a negative light.

Umair Baloch, the secretary of the Islamabad High Court Bar Association, warned media-persons that their entry could be banned in court if ‘partisan’ coverage was not stopped.

Similarly, Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) President Syed Qalbe Hassan urged media not to portray the entire legal community as mafia and terrorists.

Lawyers have played a pivotal role in movements for restoration of democracy and upholding of rule of law in the country, he said.

The SCBA president added that disgracing the legal fraternity would strengthen non-democratic forces; therefore, “media trial” against them should be stopped. “Nobody can defend the conduct of lawyers who attacked the PIC, Lahore,” he said. “Disciplinary action will be initiated against them.”

Pakistan Bar Council Vice Chairman Syed Amjad Shah, in a written statement, said bar associations both at federal and provincial levels condemned the incident; however, he complained that Punjab Police had arrested a large number of advocates who were not even present at the time of the incident. “FIRs against them have also been registered under anti-terrorism act — which is condemnable,” he said.

The PBC, meanwhile, also objected to the issuance of contempt notice to the IHC Bar Association secretary over issuing a warning to the media.

While lawyers will observe a countrywide strike today (Friday), it is also learnt that legal wings of major political parties have urged their leadership to show restraint while giving statements on the conduct of lawyers.

A lawyer belonging to the PTI told The Express Tribune that the government should be careful in handling the current situation. “We should not initiate coercive action against lawyers in the garb of media campaign,” he said, on the condition of anonymity.

Meanwhile, a senior representative of a bar association told this publication that in the aftermath of the hospital attack, office-bearers of superior bars held a meeting with the nominated Lahore High Court chief justice on Thursday.

He said it had been decided that a writ petition against the arrest of lawyers would be filed in the LHC on Friday (today).

Legal experts, however, believe that it is difficult for the superior judiciary to give relief to the vandals, saying it is a test case for judiciary.

If police action is endorsed, the justice system could be affected due to strikes whereas in case of judicial restraint, there could be negative coverage against the courts, experts said.

PBC executive member Raheel Kamran Sheikh has written a letter to all bar council members for an effective regulatory role in this regard.

“We are provoked, intimidated and mocked so we lose self-control and attack a cardiac hospital without realising that even the most black-hearted enemies in times of war do not attack hospitals. Worst of all is that we shamelessly resort to a state of denial or justification for such an insane act of aggression, instead of condemning the same and apologising to the nation. What a black day for us all,” the letter read.

The letter stated that a complete silence of the top PBC leadership showed their uncontrollable ambition for political power over morality and preservation of the conscience of legal fraternity and reveals their complacency.

Tania Bazia, an advocate, said reforms were needed to regulate lawyers’ conduct. "The katchehri system should be abolished forever and a judicial complex should be made for lawyers for their sittings,” she told The Express Tribune. “Strict legislation should be passed to control the unlawful exploitation of powers, and authority of lawyers of lower courts.”


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