Aggressive lawyers

22 Dec 2019

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‘The writer is a former civil servant.
‘The writer is a former civil servant.

MORE disconcerting than the lawyers’ raid on the Punjab Institute of Cardiology was the sight of respectable political elders of the lawyer community defending them on electronic media. Some said it was a conspiracy against lawyers to malign them, others that they were justified in their action because of the provocative videos of young doctors (which were ‘made’ to go viral). Some asserted that it was the government’s fault for not stopping the lawyers. One even threatened that the legal community would set the country on fire unless the ‘defamation’ of lawyers stopped.

While there may be some truth in all this, the point that was missed was that the lawyers are custodians of the law and if they resort to taking the law into their own hands, how can society blame murderers, terrorists and rapists? Each category has its own provocation when they commit their gruesome acts.

In effect, the leaders of the lawyers are condoning violence when it is committed in the face of an insult. God help this society if that is the mindset of teachers, researchers and practitioners of the rule of law on whom the whole edifice of a civilised society rests.

The most confusing aspect was that each of these lawyer leaders is otherwise honourable, honest and brave. They have stood up to state persecution and military dictators to defend the rule of law and the Constitution. Some have sacrificed attractive political careers for the sake of principles.

The culture of organised hooliganism is taking root.

The explanation for these leaders defending violent young lawyers seems to be based on two factors. One, they are in bar politics and cannot afford to offend their main voter base ie these aggressive lawyers. Second, they fear being roughed up by them, like advocate Naeem Bokhari once was.

Bar elections are held every year at the district, provincial and national level for which politicking continues for the entire year. Campaigning is an unending process. The most aggressive and macho amongst the young lawyers stands a good chance of being inducted into panels and getting elected. If they continue to prove their macho persona through physical assaults, they benefit in subsequent elections for higher posts.

The lawyers with elected titles in bar associations enjoy immense powers and influence over the mid-level judiciary and in some instances the higher judiciary. They thus may have a better chance of winning cases or getting immediate relief from judges, who are under implicit threat of being insulted, often physically assaulted, even transferred on the recommendation of the bars, if they do not ‘cooperate’. Thus the incentive of budding lawyers doing well in bar politics to develop an alpha male reputation is very much in place.

Some months ago, I asked a district officer, who was grabbed by the collar by a few lawyers while he was chairing a meeting, why a case was not registered. He said as soon as a case is registered against a lawyer, they file a counter case against the complainant (government functionary) through the court, since the police is unlikely to register an FIR. The courts dare not decline the petition of the lawyer Resultantly, rather than the hooligan lawyer, it is the complainant who goes behind bars. Most victims of ‘wukla gardi’ swallow their pride and don’t register a case.

One reason why the Lahore police did not intercept the advancing lawyers that day was the fear that the confrontation would end in violence and the government would be forced by the lawyers/courts to punish the baton-wielding or shell-firing policemen and their supervisors, after agonising suspensions and trials. So apart from adhering to the logic of discretion being the better part of valour, the police, like other civil servants, find inaction to be safer than action.

On the other hand, the same misplaced youthful bravado amongst young doctors has made them ill mannered and aggressive, even against their senior colleagues, who have been roughed up and insulted by them a number of times. In a momentary adrenaline rush, the fiery speakers pushing doctors to strike conveniently forget their Hippocratic Oath.

This culture of organised hooliganism amongst professional bodies is taking root because crime is paying. Aggressive leaders, who become local heroes, go scot-free after every misdemeanor. Some, especially in the legal profession, prosper because of their obnoxious conduct as litigants feel they will be able to overawe the judge.

A stitch in time saves nine. It may already be too late but the government and the Supreme Court assisted by the bars need to evaluate the utility of such intense politicking and frequent elections in the legal profession. After all, what ‘evil’ are they meant to protect the lawyers from? As for self-regulation, the bars’ role seems minimal.

Where the doctors are concerned, the Essential Services (Maintenance) Act or a similar statute needs to be brought into action to halt such unionisation of an essential service.

‘The writer is a former civil servant.

Published in Dawn, December 22nd, 2019