Pakistan Reader# 155, 16 February 2021
Furious lawyers of Islamabad stormed inside the Islamabad High Court building and held the Chief Justice as a virtual hostage in a response to the orders given by him to demolish their illegally built chambers. Several factors have contributed to the hostile behaviour of Lawyers in Pakistan.Abhiruchi Chowdhury
On February 8, a group of about 150 livid lawyers stormed into the Islamabad High Court building and vandalised the chamber of IHC chief justice Athar Minallah. They had purportedly smashed the windows and doors of the Chief Justice block and held the Chief Justice hostage for around three hours. The angry mob reportedly misbehaved with the Media personnel who were trying to cover the incident and chanted slogans against the Capital Development Authority and the Judiciary. The incident led to Islamabad High Court and Islamabad District courts to being closed till any further orders were issued. (Malik Asad, "Lawyers go on rampage in Islamabad after demolition of chambers,” Dawn, 9 February 2021)
The lawyers were furious over Capital Development Authority’s (CDA) decision to demolish their illegally built temporary chambers on the Sector F-8 Football grounds in Islamabad. Some of the chambers, the lawyers claim, were built around 15 to 20 years back and housed many of their valuable belongings such as laptops and important file documents. They further asserted that CDA had not given any prior notice for taking such an action and it was deliberately done on a Sunday night to take undue advantage of lawyers not being present on spot at that time. Over the years, some of the senior lawyers say, that there has been an informal sense of understanding between them and the CDA over the construction of temporary chambers until a decision is being taken to transfer the district court to an alternative location and the lawyers being duly allotted land where they can build their chambers. With Government failing to provide lands for the construction of chambers, the lawyers were compelled to illegally construct their chambers on an abandoned football ground.
It is quite shocking to see such educated professionals who had worked so hard in their lives resorting to violence and hooliganism to protest against the so-called injustices they had to face. The legal profession is regarded as one of the noblest professions in society. Common people bank upon lawyers to assist them in getting justice in their legal matters. It was disheartening to see that the same lawyers who are seen as upholder and protector of the law were indulged in violence and behaved in such an unruly manner. But the question one must ask is what led the lawyer community to resort to such violent behaviour. Some of the reasons as to why the lawyer community took law into their own hands without caring about the future consequences are discussed below
The unaccountability of lawyers in similar incidents
This is undoubtedly not the first time when lawyers in Pakistan showcased their hot-headed behaviour in the public. Lawyers over the past few years have increasingly indulged in violent skirmishes. In the majority of cases, none of the accused lawyers had to face any legal actions for their behaviour and was able to get free passage. A similar incident took place in Lahore in 2017 when some lawyers ransacked the office of the then chief justice of Lahore High Court Mansoor Ali Shah. The lawyers wanted to teach the former Chief justice a lesson for suspending the license of Sher Zaman Qureshi, a fellow lawyer and head of bar association of LHC, for obstructing the court proceedings. No real action was taken against anyone who was involved in the act. (“Pakistan: Protesting lawyers clash with police in Lahore”, Garda World, 21 August 2017) Another incident where lawyers lost their temper was in 2019 when they had caused rampage inside the Punjab Institute of Cardiology building to take revenge for their fellow lawyers who were beaten up by the hospital staff a few days before the incident. 55 senior lawyers had protested against the unruly behaviour of the lawyers and cases were registered against 250 lawyers under terrorism and murder charges, nevertheless, no strict penalty could be imposed upon lawyers. (Amer Malik, “Hundreds attack, ransack PIC: Lawyers lynch law, humanity in Lahore,” The News, 12 December 2019)
After-effects of Lawyer’s protest 2007
Former Chief Justice of Pakistan Ifthikar Chaudhry, who could be regarded as the architect of the lawyer’s movement in 2007 against the former dictator General Pervez Musharraf is known to have purposely appointed leaders of the lawyer’s movement as judges after his reinstatement in 2009. The newly appointed judges are said to have politicised the judiciary by waging a personal vendetta against bureaucratic and administrative officials. This had led to the development of an execrable attitude among the lawyers. Lawyers today in Pakistan view themselves as an invulnerable community and are supercilious of the fact that they were able to bring down a powerful dictator in past. (Amjad Nazir Bhatti, “Iftikhar Chaudhry: the ‘architect’ of bullying and hooliganism by lawyers,” Daily Times, 13 February 2021)
Deteriorating Law Education in Pakistan
Legal education in Pakistan is undergoing a huge crisis. The quality of education has unquestionably dropped over the years due to an escalation of various substandard law colleges coming into existence in the country. Some of the law schools have reportedly admitted students without a standardised entrance examination. Furthermore, the bar councils such as the PBC have failed to come up with quality exam for getting entry into the legal profession. This has ultimately led to a decrease in professionalism in the new lawyers who are more indulged in bar politics and other diabolical activities. (Zia Ullah Ranjah, “Legal Education,” Dawn, 5 March 2018)
The deteriorating relationship between the Bar and Bench has become a matter of concern for the Pakistani state. Mutual respect is an indispensable requirement to preserve the cordial ties between bar and bench which are progressively waning in recent years. It is impossible to imagine the behaviour of lawyers towards common citizens of Pakistan who look up to them in procuring justice if they have such kind of behaviour with the judges. The Judge community might have realized by now what a common Pakistani goes through in dealing with the lawyers in Pakistan.
Post this incident, Justice Athar Minallah had written a letter to the vice-chairmen of PBC and IBC to take strict action against the lawyers involved in the vandalization of the Islamabad High Court building. The Chief Justice has assured the lawyer community that innocent lawyers who were not part of the mob will not be harassed by the Police and those involved will also be given a fair chance to explain their side of the story. (“JIT to inquire into lawyers attack on Islamabad High Court,” ARY NEWS, 13 February 2021) It is yet to be seen whether the bar councils or the Supreme court of Pakistan will hold the lawyers accountable for their actions or not.
About the author
Abhiruchi Chowdhury is enrolled with the NIAS certificate course on Contemporary Pakistan. He is also pursuing Masters in South Asian Studies from Pondicherry University. He is interested in exploring the Geo-politics and contemporary political happenings in West Asia.