Bar politics

Published September 9, 2015
The writer is a lawyer based in Lahore.
The writer is a lawyer based in Lahore.

THE bar councils are mandated to regulate the legal profession. However, they have become increasingly politicised. Politics is not bad per se. But, politics for politics’ sake is redundant in any civilised polity. Politics for supporting the legal profession and monitoring legal services is desirable. However, political action focused on unnecessary strikes, pressure on courts and public authorities, or belligerence and hooliganism, does not suit members of the legal profession.

Traditionally, the bar has been a house of wisdom, knowledge, and integrity; a house that supported the rule of law during the lawyers’ movement, that stood for the rule of law whenever dictators or usurpers tried to abridge the Constitution or infringe on fundamental rights. The law has been a profession of great leaders and a ray of hope for the victimised. Unfortunately, this is hardly the case here.

Campaigning for bar elections, without an objective manifesto, continues throughout the year. There is hardly a day when a lawyer does not receive a political call or message from his colleagues. Each day begins with courtesy messages, and each night adds reminders to vote for a particular candidate. On special days, a lawyer is flooded with blessings like ‘Juma Mubarak’, ‘Eid Mubarak’, ‘Ramazan Mubarak’, and so on. Social media is extensively used for campaigning in bar council elections. Literature, quotes, and verses from the Quran and Hadith are frequently used for canvassing.

Campaigning for bar elections is never-ending.

Bar politics extends to every ceremony of life and death, even to the extended family of a fellow lawyer. So, changing one’s religious, moral and social orientation and behaviour is considered essential to win bar council elections.

There are established political factions in the bar. Caste and creed still play a significant role. There is an apparent divide between the urban and rural class and agrarian and non-agrarian lawyers, and so on. Every clan rewards its cronies either through appointments in higher positions or by providing support in personal matters. There seems to be a systematic effort to ‘purchase’ the loyalty of younger members.

Bar politics appears to function like an enterprise, with younger lawyers campaigning over the year in every nook and corner of the country. It has become a contest in which two teams pull at opposite ends of a rope until one drags the other over a central line — with no objective. Occasional firing and folk dancing welcome the winners.

But the bar in developed countries focuses on providing quality legal services. It conducts regular training sessions and tests to keep lawyers abreast of the latest developments in the law. It upholds standards through strict entry requirements, continuous legal education, mentoring, and professional support. It hears litigants against lawyers through effective committees and tribunals and penalises those who fail to uphold professional standards.

The bar devises strict procedures ensuring the professional and financial integrity of lawyers. It makes the conduct of lawyers a matter of public record so that people are aware of their credibility. It promotes merit and transparency in the functioning of the justice system. Political activity, if any, is meant to support the legal profession as a whole.

Our bars are still regulated by outdated rules. For example, the rules relating to legal aid work, bar council elections, and legal education are not taken seriously. The provisions regulating entry are ineffective. The rules relating to disciplinary committees and tribunals also need reconsideration. It should be a matter of grave concern for our bar that some lawyers manage to practise with fake degrees.

It is to be noted that bar politics thrives on feasts, semi-commercial advertisements, and involves heavy investment in bar council elections. Younger members of the bar are often trapped in bar politics in the early years of their career. More often than not, they learn politics rather than the law. Is it surprising then there should be a dearth of professional lawyers in the country? And, our legal system continues to fail to deliver timely justice to the people.

As always, the solution lies in reform, beginning with an educational leaflet to gather support for a ‘vote for change’ at the national level. A high-powered committee should be constituted under the Pakistan Bar Council to review outdated bar council rules and recommend appropriate reforms. A national legal education programme focusing on professionalism and legal ethics should be introduced in law schools and bar councils with the active support of the government and international professional bodies.

Visits of bar representatives should be arranged to observe the functioning of professional bodies in developed countries. Reputed institutions such as the International Bar Association may be asked to help promote professionalism through depoliticised and strong bar councils. The legal profession has immense potential. The bar must realise that potential by way of robust internal reforms.

The writer is a lawyer based in Lahore.

Published in Dawn, September 9th, 2015

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