ON Thursday, lawyers in Faisalabad and Sargodha were staging a sit-in for the establishment of benches of the Lahore High Court in their respective cities. But despite the relative calm in the protest camps, violence lurked in the background. A day earlier, lawyers in Faisalabad had resorted to familiar, violent action, apparently instigated by an impatient bar member who threatened to immolate himself in support of the demand for a bench. Sessions and district courts were ransacked. The courtrooms were locked, an image which apart from conveying the desired message of the lawyers conjured up a host of other distressing thoughts. Not least disturbing of these was the symbolism in relation to the many litigants for whom the doors to justice now appeared closed. The summary closure has added insult to injury in the case of these Pakistani citizens. The call for new LHC benches notwithstanding, there is plenty of reason to focus on reforming the subordinate courts. This is what the stranded litigants have been waiting for, only to find a lock blocking them.

The phenomenon of professionals, trained to uphold the principles of justice, taking the law into their own hands has been a common occurrence, and the repeated violence has added an element of despair to the pain such happenings inevitably cause. The tendency for violence is often blamed on “arrogance”, which is then readily linked to the lawyers’ victory in the free-judiciary movement a few years ago. This is as bad an advertisement for justice as there can be. Obviously, a counter-explanation can be attempted by terming such behaviour a sign of desperation among a group that has been denied its demand. In reality, this is disappointment mixed with a sense of power, as if the rampaging protesters enjoy immunity due to their proximity to the law.

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