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June 16, 2020

Being professional

Opinion

June 16, 2020

In Pakistan, the legal profession is largely monopolized and captured by bar-council politics and elite interest groups. The potential of young lawyers is conveniently employed in begging for votes or to serve the cause of interest groups in the bar. The training and professional growth of young lawyers is rarely prioritized.

Some do wish to improve the legal profession through bar politics, but most are engaged in politics as a simple matter of ‘business’. Reportedly, millions of rupees are spent in national, provincial, and district bar council elections every year. Those who have either weak or so-called high-profile cases assume that bar leaders can help them procure timely relief from the courts – often, buying time through strategic delays in the proceedings.

In extreme cases, political positions might be used to pressure the courts for favourable decisions. Bar councils often struggle to move against the ‘winning faction’. The disciplinary committees of bar councils are composed of winning candidates that are seemingly interested in winning more votes for the next term than improvement of the legal profession. In fact, the disciplinary committees need to be disciplined. This can be done by bringing professional lawyers on board as non-elected or honorary members. Other committees such as the legal education committee should also represent jurists and academicians. In this regard, appropriate amendments in the bar council laws should be made.

Notwithstanding some exceptions, an elite background and connections are used. Elite lawyers are staunch supporters of legal reforms, the independence of the judiciary, rule of law, and the supremacy of the constitution, but they might also go against these norms when it comes to getting relief in a particular case or availing an opportunity such as an appointment as a law officer or judge. Getting cases fixed before particular courts or transferred from one court to another, and attempting to leverage judges through sophisticated methods such as disparaging remarks and minimizing comments in the bar distort our justice system in an invisible but effective manner.

Without any clear reference to merit, a good number of lawyers are appointed to the Advocate General’s Office, the Attorney General’s Office, and the judiciary generally. Appointments are made without proper advertisements or vetting, and without reference to collective judgment or an objective assessment of each candidate’s credentials. The criterion for such jobs seems to combine subjectivity and secrecy. Further, there is a lack of effective regulation, performance evaluation, transparency and accountability that weakens our justice system.

Can this be changed? Yes, but gradually – beginning with a reminder that bar councils are a regulatory body of lawyers for lawyers. Bar councils must not support those elements that damage the reputation and prestige of the bar by violating the professional code of conduct. Moreover, bar council election expenses must be curtailed.

The lawyers appointed as law officers or elevated to the bench must demonstrate professional ability and personal integrity. An open merit system like the Central Superior Services examination, or an even better examination system, should be introduced to improve the standard of those inducted into the Advocate General’s Office, the Attorney General’s Office, and the judiciary. Otherwise, the performance of our justice system will never improve. In other words, without effective judicial and legal reforms in legal education, bar council’s regulation, and appointments in legal institutions, our justice system will not be able to meet the expectations of the public.

There should be proper guidance and training opportunities for young lawyers. Their potential should not be wasted in politics, strikes, violence and seeking adjournments in courts. There must be equality before the law: an equal opportunity to secure a hearing is required for both junior and senior lawyers; political and non-political lawyers; elite or non-elite lawyers.

Not only must justice be done, it must also be seen to be done. Merit and procedural fairness must be reflected in appointments to legal offices and judicial proceedings. Otherwise, our justice system will lose its status in the eyes of the people.

The writer is a lawyer.

Email: [email protected]