ISLAMABAD: Lawyers from all over Pakistan are gathering in Islamabad on Saturday (today) to devise a collective strategy to counter action being taken against members of the legal fraternity for storming the Islamabad High Court (IHC).
About 150 lawyers stormed the IHC on Feb 8, damaged the Chief Justice Block and also briefly detained the chief justice as well as other judges in protest against demolition of their chambers in an anti-encroachment drive launched by the Capital Development Authority (CDA) a day earlier.
The representatives of various bar associations of Pakistan will participate in a convention organised by Islamabad-based lawyers in the backdrop of the operation against the chambers, storming of the IHC, registration of cases and legal proceedings against their colleagues.
The issue of lawyers’ chambers, which led to the unprecedented attack on the IHC, developed gradually since a decade as the number of enrolled advocates increased about five fold during the period.
As many as 32 lawyers are facing contempt of court proceeding for attacking the Chief Justice Block and manhandling him while 36 have been booked under various sections of Pakistan Penal Code and Anti-Terrorism Act for the rampage.
Bar associations’ representatives from across country to participate in convention in Islamabad
The IHC has also started proceeding to send a reference of misconduct against 21 lawyers in connection with the incident.
The chambers ‘crisis’ started to emerge in 2011 when the federal capital got an exclusive high court. In subsequent years, the size of the lower judiciary also increased manifold as the sanctioned posts of sessions court judges rose from 14 to 100.
Before establishment of the IHC, Islamabad was under the territorial jurisdiction of the Lahore High Court (LHC) while officers from Punjab Judicial Service were posted to Islamabad as lower court judges.
However, after the local judiciary emerged, the number of lawyers also increased from about 1,200 to 6,500. However, neither the district judiciary was given proper space nor there was enough room for lawyers to establish their chambers.
The master plan of Islamabad also did not allocate space for lower courts that have been operating under makeshift arrangements since the establishment of the capital.
Since 1980, the district judiciary has been working in six commercial buildings owned by Saeed Anwar, Anwar Sanwal, Dr Haroon Rashid, Raja Shafqat and Mrs Anjum. Initially, the rent for the buildings was Rs14 per square foot which currently is Rs84 per square foot.
According to Imran Shaukat Rao, a legal adviser to the building owners, the courts were working without payment of rent for several months.
Interestingly, the owners went to the rent controller who decided the matter in favour of the land owners and ordered eviction of the courts. A petition for execution of the eviction order is pending in the IHC, said Mr Rao.
In 2005, the government planned to shift the lower courts to a newly-constructed district courts complex but due to the devastating earthquake in October that year the shifting was deferred.
In 2007, then president retired General Pervez Musharraf established the IHC in the district courts complex.
In 2013, the lawyers encroached upon a football ground in F-8 but faced resistance from local traders. The then chief justice of Pakistan, Saqib Nisar, took suo motu notice of the encroachment by lawyers but could not conclude the proceeding till his retirement.
The lawyers also started constructing chambers within the premises of the district courts and even outside courtrooms and parking areas.
In June 2011, the then chief justice IHC Iqbal Hameedur Rehman constituted a committee for the shifting of the district courts from F-8 to the IHC building and shifting the high court to the Constitution Avenue where the CDA had allotted 30 kanals.
The issue related to the miserable condition of the district courts was highlighted by the incumbent IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah several times. The high court also took up the issue of construction of district courts complex with the law ministry and the district administration several times.
Deputy Commissioner Islamabad Hamza Shafqaat told Dawn that the new IHC building was near completion. After relocation of the IHC, construction of the district courts complex would start in the existing IHC building. According to him, the lawyers’ chambers will also be built accordingly.
Recently, a four-member bench of the IHC, headed by the chief justice, issued a detailed verdict on the football ground encroachment. The court ordered to restore the playground by March 23, 2021, while the deadline for completion of the district courts complex has been set as March 23, 2022.
Supreme Court Bar Association President Latif Afridi said the issue of chambers was genuine and it should have been resolved years ago. He said the five acres allotted for construction of chambers was insufficient, adding that a multi-storey complex might be an option.
“A formula may also be negotiated with the government for sharing the construction cost,” he said.
Published in Dawn, February 20th, 2021