IT would seem that after the lawyers’ movement managed to achieve its objective — the restoration of then chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry — the black coats have become a law unto themselves. On Wednesday, a group of young advocates barged into the courtroom of no less than the Lahore High Court chief justice, Syed Mansoor Ali Shah, where a five-member bench was about to resume hearing a contempt of court case against some of their colleagues, and created a commotion, shouting slogans against the judges present. The gravity of the charges against the lawyers on trial can scarcely be disputed. On July 24, the LHC bar association Multan president, along with some other lawyers, had ransacked and vandalised a judge’s court. The two principal accused did not appear in court, despite assurances given to the bench by other senior bar members at the previous hearing.

To state the obvious, practitioners of the legal profession are sworn to upholding the law, not take it into their own hands. However, a number of black coats — enough to tarnish the image of their profession — have time and again demonstrated their utter contempt for the law. Even aside from the shameful spectacle in 2011 of scores of them showering rose petals on the man who had recently murdered the Punjab governor, they have shown no restraint in resorting to out-and-out thuggery to get their way both inside the court and outside. A few weeks ago, an LHC courtroom was the scene of a brawl when a group of advocates attacked the opposing counsel. And in what has become a regular occurrence, the bench has often been the target of the black coats’ ire. Members of the judiciary have been locked inside their courtrooms, intimidated during proceedings, and threatened with physical violence. It is indicative of the reputation lawyers have acquired that, in Wednesday’s incident, the policemen deputed to guard the courtroom — members of a force that otherwise often has no qualms in thrashing demonstrators — refused to intervene. Recognising the threat that some members of the bar pose to the administration of justice, the LHC chief justice on his first day in office announced several measures to rein them in. However, it seems these have not deterred the fascistic elements in the legal profession. Perhaps it is time for the Supreme Court to take notice, suspend the licences of the offending lawyers, and restore the dignity of the court.

Published in Dawn, August 4th, 2017

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