CJ And Taming Of Feral Black Coats – Something needs to be done about the ‘us vs them’ mentality of the Bar
Campaigns, elections, strikes, and protests; these events test the grit and loyalty of an advocate. The regularity and rabid frequency of the aforementioned punches a young lawyer in the gut within first few weeks of practice, who finds himself or herself as part of an array of campaigns in succession. Winners barely stop celebrating their success that campaigns for the next election already start off. The regular strikes and protests keep one mindful of the fact that justice for the living can be delayed by a day or two but first the injured ego of their colleague needs to be mourned.
Recently, the Punjab Bar Council, Pakistan Bar Council and representatives of various district bar associations of Punjab demanded that Chief Justice Mansoor Ali Shah hang his robe, leave his gavel and go home because he had ‘committed misconduct’ and had taken ‘administrative decisions on political grounds’. In other words, the bar was uneasy with the head of the bench and demanded that the head remove himself.
But before going in for the kill, the representatives of thousands of legal practitioners may kindly ask these questions; who are these judges? Where do they come from and why does the bar remain ill at ease with them? The answer is that these judges were once lawyers who pleaded and practised in courts for decades before being elevated to the higher judiciary. The bench hails from the bar. Honourable judges wore coats for decades before donning robes. The bar/bench divide is eternal, then why do they try to clip each other’s wings?
As far as the lawyer’s fraternity is concerned the choice available to a lawyer is simple; he or she either stays in, shuts up and bears out the shenanigans of bar politics or leaves practice and lands himself or herself somewhere else. I practised law for one year and called it a day for all days to come. I barged in to the dull, dying world of print journalism because the mighty universe of law practice had meteors of strikes, galaxies of protests and countless misbehaving black-coat-donning planets collapsed in the black-robe-wearing satellites out of sheer wanton.
The dilemma of a lawyer in Pakistan, dearest sirs and ma’ams, is that he or she has no identity, no voice, no ground, no weight and no gravity in his or her individual capacity. An individual can’t say no or take a stand against his or her peers. He or she can support a cause but can’t question it. They are free to become part of a mob and the moment they question the need for the mob, they become outcasts or pariahs.
I called Mr Majid Bashir, my mentor in all things legal and judicial and a former Additional District and Sessions Judge and senior associate at ABS & Co to know what made the bar demand CJ Mansoor Ali Shah’s resignation.
“The Chief Justice made a bench to take up the applications received against lawyers. In most cases, the judges used to send the applications back to bar to take appropriate action. Bar associations have their own mechanism for the accountability of advocates. By creating a bench to hear any such petitions the Chief Justice has created a parallel jurisdiction. What’ll happen is people will start filing their complaints against bar members with the bench,” he said.
Mr Bashir further said that bar associations tackle instances of misbehaviour as administrative issues, while the bench will mete out severe punishments to an advocate who may have gone astray.
When asked about the way out of the quandary, Mr Majid Bashir said it is best if honourable judges and members of different bar associations form committees to hammer out new regulations and make a more viable code of ethics for bar practitioners at all tiers. At present there are laws and mechanisms, but their implementation is nowhere in sight.
Nasrullah Shah, a young advocate who is yet to bag his High Court licence and a very good friend of mine, thinks that all this hullabaloo being raised by various bar associations is nothing but making sure that CJ Mansoor Ali Shah falls in line.
“Bar associations are there to protect lawyers and their interests. There is nothing inherently wrong with it at all. The worrisome thing is that in their bid to protect certain lawyers from the consequences of their doings and undoings they come out as fairy godmothers and apologists. To the lawyers who dabble in bar politics, a lawyer is more than a fellow in a black coat, he or she is a potential voter who demands protection when things go south. Take the example of Rawalpindi Bar. It doesn’t even dare tell its members to stop double-parking their vehicles in the judicial complex. Bar associations, unfortunately, have become lifeboats for a lawyers whose careers got torpedoed by their own acts in front of the bench,” he said in his signature manner of objectivity intermingled with aloofness.
At present, our legal fraternity suffers from a debilitating case of group thinking that dictates its every act and omission. Bar councils have shed their faculties of moral judgment. They’ve made sure that no dissenting voice remains in their midst. Those who think differently are condemned to censor themselves, the illusion of unanimity is perpetuated and belief in inherent moral superiority is cemented. In short, the ‘us vs them’ mentality rules the ‘black coats’. The sole dictum bar councils pay heed to is that a lawyer is never wrong and when he or she is wrong, he or she is still to be protected as one of our own.
For the lack of a better conclusion, I present before you a few lines by Alexander Pushkin, a Russian poet who knew what people turn out to be when they tread down the fiendish paths:
Unhappy nation! Everywhere
Men suffer under whips and chains,
And over all injustice reigns,
And haughty peers abuse their power
And sombre prejudice prevails.
An earlier version of this article appeared in Pakistan Today and it is being republished here with permission.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of CourtingTheLaw.com or any organization with which he might be associated.