ISLAMABAD: Perceived misappropriation in the accounts of the Supreme Court Bar Association as well as the proposed housing scheme for lawyers at Maloot, Park Road, Islamabad, will be a decisive factor in the SCBA’s upcoming elections, campaigning for which has already gained momentum.
Scheduled for Oct 31, the elections would see the SCBA’s 3,100 members across the country determine who forms the 22-member cabinet for the term 2019-20.
The SCBA attained national significance after the successful lawyers’ movement in 2007.
Both contesting groups are claiming and counter-claiming comfortable position to bag victory with ease.
The SCBA elections are always keenly watched by all since the association has become a forceful body of lawyers that plays pivotal role in national politics as well as acting as a bridge in situations like confrontation between two pillars of the state — the executive and the judiciary.
Both Independent Group and Professional Group claim they will comfortably win the Oct 31 vote
This time the Independent Group, which was earlier called Asma Group, has fielded former Pakistan Bar Council (PBC) vice chairman and Enrolment Committee member of the Supreme Court Qalbe Hassan, whereas the Professional Group or Hamid Khan Group — an equally dominant group in Punjab — is supporting Mohammad Shoaib Shaheen for the office of the presidency.
Polling day coincides with Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam’s (JUI-F) Azadi march that has created fears among lawyers that their elections may be disrupted due to expected unrest and disorder because of the march.
However, JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman assured the Pakistan Bar Council leaders in a recent meeting that the march would not create any hindrance for the lawyers in their elections and that they would reach Islamabad in the evening. Besides, he said, JUI-F workers and supporters would also facilitate the lawyers in casting their votes.
Qalbe Hassan, a well-known figure in the lawyers’ fraternity, has been a member of the enrolment committee for almost eight years.
Shoaib Shaheen had also served in the same position for eight months in 2016. Besides this, his professional standing in service matters is also well recognised in the community.
Mr Shaheen is trying to woo voters by reminding them that he has a number of judgements to his credit which reflects that he truly is a professional and a busy lawyer.
Observers believe that Mr Hassan’s campaign has an edge over his opponent in view of the general perception about misappropriation of funds in the SCBA hostel complex which, they claim, was used to be run through an office clerk and that the SCBA accounts had not received any deposits since May 1, 2019.
The Independent Group enjoyed the support of towering pillars having influence in the legal fraternity, like former SCBA presidents Yasin Azad, Ali Ahmed Kurd, Latif Afridi and Hadi Shakeel.
On the other hand, Mr Shaheen is being supported by equally eminent lawyers associated with the Hamid Khan group as well as by the federal government though discreetly.
Both candidates have one common ground which is the stand they took in support of Justice Qazi Faez Isa of the Supreme Court against the filing of the presidential reference against him.
This year’s theme of the election campaign also revolves around the discreet campaign on the part of the federal government to enhance the retirement age of Supreme Court judges from the existing 65 years to 68 years, in addition to allegations of corruption.
The topic gained traction in bar rooms and gatherings as part of the election campaign after the retirement age of judges caught the attention of lawyers on reports that two Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s parliamentarians — Fakhr Imam and Amjad Khan Niazi — moved a private bill before the National Assembly, seeking to increase the retirement age of the Supreme Court judges from 65 to 68 years.
Legal observers claim that the idea has set off alarm bells among the superior court judges over proposals to enhance the retirement age of the judges. Some of them describe it as a bait, while others wonder how was it possible without the help of two major opposition parties — the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and the Pakistan Peoples Party.
“We are opposed to the concept of extensions be it for the army chief or for judges,” said PBC vice chairman Syed Amjad Shah at a get-together held recently in Islamabad in support of Mr Hassan as the candidate for SCBA presidency from the Independent Group.
“We believe this concept negates the rule of law and the strengthening of democratic institutions,” he said, adding that unnecessary debate was being encouraged by the vested interest only to create wedge between the bench and the bar.
The voice of the media was being muzzled and the opposition political parties were being pushed to the wall, he alleged, adding that if the bar at this crucial juncture chose to remain silent then there would be no difference between the graveyard and the bar.
Published in Dawn, October 29th, 2019