ISLAMABAD: Repeated incidents of rowdyism on the part of the lawyers’ community have caused the government to explore ways to discipline elements in the profession who often tend to get boorish, giving a bad name to the profession.
And to achieve this goal, according to informed sources, the government is seriously considering bringing amendments to the Legal Practitioners and Bar Councils (Amendment) Act, 2019, to ensure peaceful environment in the legal profession and judicial proceedings by preventing incidents of protests turning into violent activities by lawyers.
The amendments, which the government is considering, are through the introduction of sub-section 6 in Section 41 of the Legal Practitioners and Bar Councils (Amendment) Act, 2019.
The amendments propose cancelling the licence of a legal practitioner for life if he/she indulges in physical violence against any person. They also suggest cancellation of the licence for life if a lawyer is involved in cheating, fraud, forgery, false affidavits or deliberate concealment of facts.
Licence of violent lawyers may be cancelled for life after amendments in legal practitioners act
Since such a development may invite criticism on the part of the lawyers’ community, the government has also sought input from the lawyers’ regulatory bodies namely the Pakistan Bar Council (PBC) as well as other provincial bar councils with a request to suggest improvements in the law.
At the centre of the attempt on the part of the government by bringing amendments in the law was last December’s tragic incident of the Punjab Institute of Cardiology (PIC), Lahore.
The incident had not only invited countrywide condemnation but had also put the PBC — the mother regulatory body of lawyers — under intense pressure to apologise to the nation for such an act of violence and admit unequivocally that regardless of any provocation or justification, the attack on the PIC was highly condemnable.
The issue became more critical when a group of 55 senior lawyers, including Abid Hasan Minto, Makhdoom Ali Khan, Raza Kazim, Tariq Mehmood, Mahmood Awan, Mustafa Ramday and many others, from all major cities of Pakistan through an open letter demanded the PBC proceed against delinquent lawyers who violated the law and committed illegal acts.
They had also asked for proper proceedings after conducting investigations strictly in accordance with the law against the lawyers without undermining the constitutionally guaranteed rights of the accused or affording them exceptional treatment since such actions had brought disrepute to the legal profession as a whole and humiliated the legal fraternity.
However, the move was rejected outright by PBC vice chairman Abid Saqi, who while talking to Dawn dubbed the attempt as a malicious onslaught to gag and silence the freedom of expression by delegitimizing the 70-year-long historic role played by the lawyer’s community for strengthening constitutionalism, democracy and the rule of law.
According to him, already the proper system of holding lawyers accountable for their untoward behaviour are in place under our laws in the shape of tribunals, which is headed by a sitting Supreme Court judge and provincial high court judges at provincial levels also providing the right appeal against adverse decisions.
Referring to the proposed bill, the PBC vice chairman said the council would soon be calling a countrywide representative meeting to give a collective response to the suggestion after getting input from all bar councils and bar associations.
When asked, PBC’s senior member Advocate Raheel Kamran Sheikh suggested that the proposed punishment against lawyers should commensurate with the illegality committed starting from suspension of a licence for a certain period at minimum then cancellation of the licence for life at maximum.
To justify his opinion, Advocate Sheikh explained that he had met many lawyers who were seen at the incident at the PIC, but they had gone there not to take part in the storming of the health facility but to discourage their fellow professionals to desist from demonstrating such behaviour.
Since the tempers were so high then, it was very difficult for them to stop the protesting lawyers from doing what they did then, he said, adding treating them all with one stroke of brush would be injustice.
But to make disciplinary committees/tribunals of the bar councils more independent and less amenable to regulatory capture, Advocate Sheikh suggested, two members nominated by the National Assembly’s speaker, one each from the treasury and the opposition, could be included in the compositions of the tribunals in the cases of the PBC and the Islamabad Bar Council and two MPAs nominated by the speaker of the respective provincial assembly, one each from the treasury and the opposition, in their compositions in cases of each Provincial Bar Council.
Such inclusion will also mean that the consumers of justice — the public — who are the largest stakeholders in the administration of justice are equally represented in ensuring the rule of law and curtailing internal threats to the nobility and independence of the Bar, he suggested.
However, he was of the view that lawyers should not be behaving like what they did when they indulged in rowdyism at the PIC.
Meanwhile, Additional Attorney General Tariq Khokhar supported the idea by stating that the existing system of holding lawyers accountable had failed the legal profession.
From professional misconduct and unethical acts there is a new low of serious crimes, he deplored, saying an odious rot has set in. Therefore, a thorough reform is the need of the hour, he said, adding any step in this direction should be most welcome.
Published in Dawn, February 9th, 2020