The crippling nobility of legal Pakistan
OVER two million cases are pending in the superior and lower courts of Pakistan. The general public has, to an extent, lost faith in Pakistan’s justice system as court cases drag on for years and justice is drowned away in the process.
The legal profession, referred to as the profession of the Lords, has been considered a noble walk of life throughout history.
Nobility, being closely associated with morality, has been linked with the legal profession due to the knowledge and high moral standards possessed by advocates around the globe.
However, these very attributes that make this profession noble are being sucked out of ‘legal Pakistan’.
In addition to the attack on the Punjab Institute of Cardiology, we have seen district judges being harassed, skies being lit up with gunfire, police officers being threatened and the ‘waqeel’ card being used by lawyers throughout Pakistan.
Three main reasons appear for the crippling nobility in the legal profession. Firstly, the absence of ethical training prior to the issuance of the licence to practise law.
Secondly, the lack of regulation and the rather silent role of the respective Bar Councils concerning such cases. And lastly, the growing backlog of cases and a weak justice system.
Legal ethics are the foundation of legal nobility. Unfortunately, in Pakistan, legal ethics are not part of the curriculum taught to aspiring lawyers.
After passing the LLB, all one has to do, is clear the Law Graduate Assessment Test (Law GAT), followed by an intimation period of six months with a practising lawyer.
However, five per cent of the Law GAT is consisted of the conduct of advocates (ethics). Hence, one can clear the exam circumventing the ethics exam entirely.
Passing an independent and challenging legal ethics exam, as in UK’s Barrister Training Course, should be a prerequisite of securing a licence to practise law.
If implemented, this will assist potential advocates in absorbing the fundamental teachings of professional legal ethics.
Young lawyers are expected to absorb the ethics of the profession from their senior lawyers.
However, the use of the ‘waqeel’ card is what they mainly learn during their intimation period.
They are taught how to gang up on not only police officers, as seen in the Margalla Police Station episode in Islamabad, but also the judiciary, as witnessed in the Islamabad High Court a few days ago.
A Bar Vocational Course should be introduced and implemented as per the Constitutional Petition No. 134 of 2012.
In this petition, the Supreme Court held that the Bar Councils may introduce a ‘Two-Week Bar Vocational Course’.
However, a two-week vocation course compared to the British one-year Barrister Training Course would arguably not be enough.
Ethical training should be a responsibility of the respective Bar Councils which must not be passed on to anyone else. A Bar Council is considered as the mother of all lawyers registered under it.
A mother loves but also regulates to bring about the best version of her children.
Sadly, the regulatory role of the Bar Councils seems to be disappearing in Pakistan.
The Bar Councils, which are responsible for holding lawyers accountable for unscrupulous acts, usually play the opposite role by defending them.
This is because members of the Bar Councils are elected by these very lawyers whom they are supposed to regulate.
The regulators, anticipating their next election run, show more concern towards being re-elected than preserving the nobility of the profession.
Therefore, a single term limit should be introduced for membership of a Bar Council.
If executed, members would not contemplate a second election campaign and might be able to regulate with impartiality.
Moreover, as per the Legal Practitioners and Bar Councils Act 1973, a person is qualified to be elected as a member of a Provincial Bar Council if (1) he is on the Roll of advocates maintained by the Bar Council, (2) has been an advocate for at least ten years, and (3) has cleared all payable dues to the respective Bar Council.
The question at hand is that of competence. The number or frequency of litigated cases holds no importance here.
Thus, non-practising lawyers, with little to no concern towards preserving legal nobility, are allowed to run for the regulatory authority responsible for professional accountability.
The Former Deputy Attorney General, Nayyab Gardezi, stated: “for young lawyers, members of the Bar Councils are supposed to be role models with spotless careers”.
He further stressed on the “creation of a Judicial Committee responsible for issuing eligibility certificates conscientiously to those anticipating an election run.”
Thus, only professional and frequent litigants should qualify to be elected as members of a Bar Council.
This would prevent non-professionals, with little or no interest for the nobility of the profession, from being elected.
Former High Court Judge and Law Minister, Dr Khalid Ranjha, while highlighting the lack of impartiality in Pakistan’s judicial system, said: “Personal bias often present in our judicial appointments, damages the transparency that a judicial system should possess.
” The appointment of judges should not only entirely be on merit but seen to be on merit, as it is the court in which the public is to place its trust.
Furthermore, the nobility of the profession is impaired when the distrust of the people, towards the system, is exploited by lawyers for their personal gains.
Lawyers, while using the ‘waqeel’ card, threaten their disputants with never-ending lawsuits and thus erode the fabric of legal nobility.
Such behaviour should be made punishable by a fine, temporary suspension of practising licence, or even disbarment depending on the severity of the offence, as in the United Kingdom.
—The writer is a practising lawyer based in Islamabad.