Violent lawyers

Updated Dec 13 2019

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WHAT else could be more damning evidence of a society teetering on the edge of anarchy than when those sworn to uphold the law violate it in a manner that is considered a crime even in times of war?

On Wednesday, hundreds of lawyers stormed the Punjab Institute of Cardiology in Lahore after videos emerged on social media showing certain doctors from the hospital mocking the black coats over an ongoing dispute between the two sides.

And this was no spontaneous violence, condemnable as even that would have been.

This was a pre-planned assault, with the mob — some of its members carrying sticks and guns — descending upon the hospital en masse, determined to wreak havoc.

The outcome will forever remain a blot on the legal community.

Rampaging through the country’s largest cardiac facility, the attackers destroyed furniture and equipment — including ventilators — smashed window panes, and damaged cars. They also forced their way into the emergency department, terrorising and manhandling the medical staff and patients’ attendants who were forced to flee leaving the critically ill behind. At least three patients died during the mayhem. The police finally managed to control the situation after a prolonged face-off during which they baton-charged the mob and fired tear gas shells.

There have been numerous incidents in recent years where the legal community has displayed utter contempt for the law.

Ironically enough, it may have been the lawyers’ movement from 2007 to 2009 — considered a prime example of effective civil resistance — that sowed the seeds for the out-and-out thuggery increasingly on display by the black coats. For it seems that the movement’s success in achieving its objective — the restoration of then Supreme Court chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry — instilled in some lawyers a taste for confrontation coupled with a certain hubris in which there is no room for dissent.

Vicious brawls have broken out on court premises between opposing advocates; courtrooms have been ransacked; and in late 2017, a crowd of lawyers vandalised a new judicial complex.

The bench, too, is often a direct target of the black coats’ ire. Members of the judiciary have been held hostage inside their courtrooms, intimidated during proceedings, and threatened with physical violence. Wednesday’s rampage, however, plumbs new lows in its complete disregard for the basic norms of humanity.

Of course, the majority of lawyers are not cut from the same cloth, and many of them have roundly condemned their compatriots for their abhorrent actions. Nevertheless, there are among them sufficient numbers of such disorderly individuals as to bring the entire fraternity into disrepute.

So far, FIRs have been filed against over 250 advocates involved in the episode. Not only should they be proceeded against under the law that they have so shamefully trampled on, but the Pakistan Bar Council must strip them of their licences. Such lawyers do not belong in any courtroom.

Published in Dawn, December 13th, 2019