Of dealing with the murders of lawyers

Lawyers and their representative bodies should take up this matter as their first priority.

Mohammad A Qayyum June 05, 2013
The writer is a practicing barrister and managing partner of Qayyum and Associates in Lahore. He is a graduate of Columbia and Oxford universities

The black coat and tie, which ought to be a shield behind which a lawyer should be able to effectively represent and protect his client has fast turned into a target for assassins. Within this week, a young upcoming lawyer, Zain Ghaffar, was murdered in Lahore, reportedly for pursuing the murder case of his uncle. In Karachi, Kausar Saqlain was murdered, along with his young children. Previously, we have had lawyers murdered across every city in Pakistan, in their offices, in their homes and out in the streets. Names of Chinoy, Warraich, Bhinder, are but a few in an ever-increasing list of murdered lawyers.

The response of the bar and society to such murders has been that of an ostrich. They have not dealt with the problem — bars have called strikes and then forgotten the deceased. They have left the families of the deceased to fend for themselves. Society has shrugged its collective shoulders and moved on. The problem has escalated and now has broader implications.

These murders signify that the tipping point for the disintegration of our legal system has come and gone. Killing of witnesses has become none too rare; lawyers, too, are now fair game.

Undisputably, the murder of any person deserves a stringent response from the community. However, the murder of a lawyer is not just the murder of an individual. It sends out a broader message, about the impotence of the entire process of administration of justice and its failure to protect its own. I would deem it terrorism and it should be treated as such by all concerned, including the courts.

There is sufficient scope in the law to treat the murder of any participant of the legal process as terrorism and for it to be prosecuted as such. However, the courts have, to date as a rule, not treated any case as such. The bar and the prosecution need to pursue murders of lawyers on this plane. Perhaps, there is need for legislation to treat the murder of lawyers, witnesses and judges as terrorism. This is a fundamental requirement to ensure the protection of the process of administration of justice and of all its participants.

Being a lawyer is a noble calling and anyone murdered in performance of such noble duty is a martyr. It is the bar’s obligation to ensure righteous retribution and support to the family of the deceased. The Lahore High Court Bar Association has recently taken the positive step of approving the setting up of a high-powered standing committee to deal with matters where lawyers are murdered, including overseeing and involving itself in investigation, prosecution and providing assistance to the bereaved families.

There has been a tendency to rationalise the murder of lawyers. People comment that perhaps the lawyer had become too involved with the case or become a party himself. Perhaps, he was abusing his professional position or maybe there was a sectarian motivation. Even if that were the case, and one cannot deny that such motivations do exist, the same cannot, however, justify a murder. Bad sheep amongst the lawyers can be taken on before disciplinary bodies and higher courts. However, the murder of a lawyer needs to be looked at in a broader perspective and the response, at least initially, has to be asymmetrical, disproportionate and example-setting.

Several months ago, I had occasion to overhear an advocate, who was a former officer of the Rawalpindi Bar, in the Supreme Court Bar Room. He was very flustered and was claiming that he would be killed soon and that he had been complaining of threats to his life at all forums and no one had paid any heed to them. He seemed loud and somewhat unbalanced, so no one paid him any heed. He was shot dead a couple of weeks later in Rawalpindi. His passing still rankles with me. His desperation is what I most remember and something that I would recommend that all concerned should also feel. Lawyers and their representative bodies should take this matter up, perhaps, in the suggested manner, as their first priority.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 6th, 2013.                                                                                          

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Uza Syed | 8 years ago | Reply

No, sir, no one has closed her / his eyes or considers killings of innocent folks, including lawyers, here or for that matter anywhere. However, when human blood seems so cheap and plenty to waste for everyone except the one who feels himself endangered by some crazy gunhappy maniac then in such circumstances we tend to become selfishly limited to ourselves and tend to forget our common humanity and even common threats. This is unfortunate, but harsh fact of prevailing, circumstances that the fear of being targetted or unfortunate victim of a crossfire has splitted us and fragmented even our common sense that our survival is in unity as divided and polarized we make it easier for those who wish us destroyed.

Mirza | 8 years ago | Reply

A nice professional and common sense Op Ed and hopefully the SC CJ is listening. If the lawyers are not free and independent then no justice can be possible. A good read for those who are in charge.

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