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December 12, 2019

Lawyers on the loose

Editorial

 
December 12, 2019

Wednesday saw some of the worst of humanity on display in Lahore, when men and women of the law decided to violate all its principles, threaten individuals and raid an institution – without any regard for the sanctity of human life. What made it all even more horrifying was that the institution being attacked was a leading medical centre where patients in serious conditions were being treated. The Punjab Institute of Cardiology, one of the leading cardiac care hospitals in Lahore, fell prey to the mob of rampaging lawyers who seemed to hold ego higher than the lives of other citizens. The ensuing violence, vandalism and rioting ended up in the deaths of three patients and much damage to property. Doctors fear other patients may also be adversely affected in terms of their health by these unfortunate events.

The attack, which even in polite terms can only be called uncivilised, was apparently triggered by a video which went viral and showed young doctors mocking lawyers. While this ‘provocation’ – as it is being callously described by senior lawyers – may not have been in the best taste, it was certainly not enough for anyone to attack a hospital with vulnerable patients inside; in fact, no kind of ‘provocation’ can ever warrant an attack on a hospital. A month ago, there had been a scuffle at the PIC between lawyers and young doctors, apparently as lawyers attempted to gain priority treatment for a particular patient. This scuffle led to 12 arrests and police intervention. On Wednesday, however, the Punjab Police decided to stand on the side for the most part of the ‘protest’ and it was only much later in the day that they intervened and used batons and teargas to try and calm down the situation. The damage, though, had already been done. As the images unfolded live on TV screens through the day, the horrifying reality set in: we live in a country where abusive, violent behaviour has become so common and so unstoppable that even those meant to protect us – the police – watch helplessly as gangs and unruly mobs easily take the law in their own hands. These men and women are supposed to protect us, defend us, use the law to make an argument and fight a case. But they had rather terrorize a hospital, make live social media threats against doctors and even assault government representatives. The government, in the meanwhile, only springs into action when its clear that media coverage of the incident has left little room for any excuses.

As just a beginning, we hope strict action will be taken up by bar associations, and any lawyer that indulged in rioting and threats and vandalism is debarred from practising the law. The prime minister has ordered a full inquiry as has the chief minister of Punjab, and we hope that inquiry includes why exactly such a protest was allowed to get so serious, without any timely intervention from the provincial government whatsoever. The Young Consultants Association has said that they will begin a strike and no consultant will be available at hospitals to treat the seriously ill. In the end then, it is the patients and their families who suffer most. Our lawyers need to seriously consider what they have become. Their profession demands restraint and deliberation, not the kind of insanity we witnessed on Wednesday. This is not the first time lawyers have displayed such behaviour. We have seen judges being locked up, even assaulted, by lawyers. We have seen some of the worst illegal behaviour in fact from those who are supposed to guide us on what the law says. Punitive action from professional bodies and the police is necessary to prevent anything of this nature occurring again. The country stands shaken by the event. For now, one can only feel a deep sense of fear at the kind of people we – and especially our young – have become.

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