Unrepentant lawyers

Updated December 15, 2019

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ONE would have imagined that our ‘upholders of the law’ would have felt profound revulsion at the actions of their compatriots on Wednesday when a mob of black coats stormed the Punjab Institute of Cardiology in Lahore. Not only were hospital staff beaten and lifesaving hospital equipment destroyed, but some critically ill patients died during the shameful episode, possibly as a direct result of the mayhem.

However, most lawyers — with certain exceptions — and bar associations have doubled down on the brazen disregard for the norms of decency and the law itself, demanding that the lawyers arrested for running amok like members of a street gang be released immediately.

In keeping with this belligerent stance, the nationwide strike call issued by several bar associations was enforced on Friday through threats and intimidation against those reluctant to participate. Sadly, aside from Chief Justice Asif Saeed Khosa, even many of those who condemned the violence did so in muted language, citing ‘provocation’ on the part of certain PIC doctors against the lawyers as a mitigating factor. This amounts to defending the indefensible. Under no circumstances can an attack on a hospital be justified.

That said, it is also a fact that many doctors in this country have repeatedly dishonoured their oath, a dereliction of duty that can mean the difference between life and death. A glance at some recent incidents suffices to illustrate the point.

Earlier this year, doctors and paramedics in Balochistan went on strike for no less than 50 days during which OPDs in the province’s government-run hospitals remained closed. A month-long strike by doctors in Punjab ended in November only when the Lahore High Court issued an order to the effect.

In September, violent clashes broke out in Peshawar between the police and doctors protesting over a controversial piece of legislation. The rampage at the PIC too began with thuggish behaviour by medical professionals at the hospital.

There have even been occasions when medics have boycotted emergency services. Those at the receiving end are the hapless citizens of this country who cannot afford private health facilities; often, they travel long distances from under-resourced rural areas in search of medical attention in urban centres, only to find shuttered OPDs.

There can be justifiable reasons for doctors to protest, such as insufficient pay at government hospitals, but they should make their case without causing hardship to patients and their families.

For their part, provincial authorities and local administrations must deal swiftly and fairly with incipient disputes and simmering discontent. Eroding mechanisms of arbitration and justice have left this society increasingly prone to knee-jerk reactions and vigilante ‘justice’.

Disturbingly, lawyers today are among the most disorderly segment of the population. Senior advocates have demanded a judicial inquiry into Wednesday’s attack, which is fair enough. But is this crop of lawyers prepared to accept its findings?

Published in Dawn, December 15th, 2019