THE law of the jungle is alive and well in Pakistan’s lower courts. Additional District and Sessions Judge Dr Sajida Ahmed Chaudhry has penned a no-holds-barred letter to Chief Justice of Pakistan Gulzar Ahmed and the Lahore High Court chief justice dilating on the harassment that her fellow judges face at the hands of rowdy and boorish lawyers. “I am very much disappointed and discontented after spending about 21 years of judicial service, the golden period of my youth,” she writes. “Respect, prestige and sacredness of this prestigious and dignified profession [are] of no worth.” In fact, the judge says that had she known she would have to contend with so much abuse and disrespect from lawyers in her courtroom, she would not have entered the profession at all. Dr Chaudhry has put her name to what is a widespread sentiment among her compatriots. In May 2018, some judges from Lahore’s district courts had addressed an anonymous complaint along similar lines to the LHC chief justice, requesting that he visit the civil courts to see for himself the dire conditions in which they had to work.

One would imagine that those whose very profession is based upon the rule of law, who spend hours arguing over its finer points, would have internalised a respect for the law, at least in its fundamental aspects. Dispiritingly, this is far from the truth. There have been umpteenth incidents in the past few years where the black coats have indulged in hooliganism, even roughing up judges whose verdicts they disagree with. Who can forget the shocking scenes last year of lawyers on a rampage in Lahore attacking the Punjab Institute of Cardiology to avenge the ‘humiliating treatment’ meted out to some of their colleagues by certain PIC doctors? Or when dozens of lawyers in December 2017 vandalised the newly constructed judicial complex in Multan to protest against shifting to the building? These are but two instances of a long and inglorious chronology where the black coats have used their fists to ‘settle scores’ or make their displeasure known. Then there are the strikes that prolong the travails of litigants and their families. Justice Mansoor Ali Shah earlier said that 948 strikes in district bars between January and March 2017 prevented 600,000 cases from being taken up.

There is also a gender dimension to the workplace harassment issue. The male-female ratio in the legal profession is heavily skewed in favour of men: if aggression in the courtroom is not firmly dealt with by the bar associations and the senior judiciary, it could further discourage women from entering the profession. Finally, one must ask why so many lawyers have developed a tendency to go off the rails at the drop of a hat. Surely they must cultivate more faith in the basics of a well-ordered society.

Published in Dawn, November 19th, 2020

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