Victim of neglect: Lawyers’ library survives on fines, but barely

The library boasts the largest collection of rare legal books in the province.

The survival of the lawyers’ library depends on the fines imposed by judges on lawyers and litigants. PHOTOS: AYESHA MIR/EXPRESS

KARACHI: “One person’s punishment is another’s survival,” smiles librarian, Agha Sajida, sharing the mixed feelings of both happiness and sorrow as she receives two pay orders worth Rs22,500.

The amount comes out of a fine imposed by judges on a lawyer as punishment for wasting the court’s precious time - either by filing frivolous cases or otherwise. The transaction is one of the few forms of informal financial help that the lawyers’ library at the Sindh High Court receives.

Formerly known as ‘Bird Wood Library’, it was established in 1947 on the high court premises. It is believed to be the only facility to offer a sizeable collection of rare law books to members of the legal fraternity across the province.

Pin-drop silence

‘Silence’ is the first among other instructions for visitors. The librarian laments, however, that the particular direction has been taken too literally by the government when it comes to running the library’s affairs.

“There is absolutely no financial help coming in from any side, be it the federal, provincial or local government authorities,” she told The Express Tribune. The library is run by a managing committee, whose president is the incumbent chief justice of the provincial high court, by virtue of its office.

“The SHC does not pay us a single penny from its budgetary allocations directly. The incumbent and his predecessors have not even visited the library for decades,” complained advocate Saleem Mangrio, the honorary secretary of the managing committee.

The only consistent source of income is from the annual subscription fee that the 696 members pay. Each member is supposed to pay Rs1,000 - most haven’t paid in years.

“At the moment, Rs40 million are lying outstanding on the members,” Mangrio told The Express Tribune.

Useful punishment

For Sajida, it may not be easy to cancel memberships to punish the defaulting members. She has, however, benefitted from the punishments awarded by the court.

In 1999, the then managing committee of the library found it difficult to run it from its meagre income, and therefore requested the Sindh High Court to at least divert the amounts of fines imposed by the judges on lawyers or litigants towards the library. This formula has worked out and the library has survived till today.

“Whenever the judges find a lawyer or litigant guilty of wasting the court’s precious time by indulging in frivolous litigation, they impose fines on them. And the fines are ordered to be deposited into the library’s bank account,” she explained. By the end of 2013, the library had received an amount of Rs25 million.

Individual support

The governments, which largely rely on their legal teams to defend their commissions and omissions in the courts, have never bothered to extend a helping hand, except some individuals.

Niamatullah Khan had donated Rs500,000 when he was the city’s mayor. The announcement of Rs2.5 million as donation came from Dr Abdul Qadir Halepota, also a lawyer, when he became the caretaker chief minister. The library management said they received only half the pledged amount.

Plenty of books, no space to keep them

The library consists of four rooms flooded with over 23,000 books. Small tables with four chairs each, are arranged in the middle of the large and wide almirahs touching the ceilings.

The library’s collection of books keeps increasing but it has run short on space to keep them. Piles of books donated by prominent lawyers are gathering dust as there is no space for them in the halls. After a lull of 15 years, the incumbent managing committee has started some renovation work at the library. Sadija felt, however, its survival still remained doubtful. “How long can we survive on money coming out of fines? Someone must wake up and find a permanent solution to provide constant funding to the library.”

Published in The Express Tribune, March 31st, 2014.


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