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June 29, 2020

SHC seeks report regarding approval of funds for lawyers affected by pandemic

Karachi

June 29, 2020

The Sindh High Court (SHC) has directed a provincial law officer to submit a report with regard to approval of the Sindh chief minster for providing relief funds to the lawyers affected due to the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown.

The direction came on a petition of the Sindh Bar Council (SBC) and other lawyers seeking a direction to the federal and provincial governments to provide annual grant in aid and at least Rs70 million to the bar council relief funds to provide financial assistance to the lawyers affected due to the pandemic.

An additional advocate general Sindh informed the high court that the finance department had forwarded a summary to the law department that requested the finance department that funds be placed at disposal of the SBC which disposes of the same through its own mechanism.

The law officer submitted that the finance department would earmark funds and put the same to the CM for his approval and said that the decision would be made within two weeks.

A division bench of the SHC headed by Justice Omar Sial directed the law officer to submit a report with regard to the approval of funds as well as file a report on the SBC and bar associations’ request for regular funds, and adjourned the hearing till July 9.

The SBC had filed the petition with the SHC, submitting that the bar council had 35,000 registered advocates entitled to practise law in the province and many of those lawyers were facing financial difficulties due to the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown as all court work had been suspended except for urgent nature cases and bail matters.

Their counsel Salahuddin Ahmed submitted that the federal and provincial law ministries had been seriously remiss in their obligations and responsibilities in relation to managing the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the judicial system and the legal fraternity of Pakistan.

He submitted that numerous advocates had been left without any work or means of sustenance and the impact on the legal fraternity had been practically severe since most of them were self-employed and earned fees through routine litigation or assignments undertaken on behalf of litigants on a daily basis and they were unable to provide for even their family’s basic needs.

The counsel submitted that despite the dire need, the legal fraternity had been entirely neglected in various relief packages announced by the federal and provincial governments. He said that numerous concessionary loan packages announced by the State Bank of Pakistan for small businesses and self-employed persons were completely useless for the lawyers because all commercial banks had adopted a policy whereby advocates and judges were not even advanced credit cards and in such circumstances, the legal fraternity had been subjected to discrimination as even though they were equally entitled to relief during the pandemic crises.

He said the SBC had established its relief fund aimed at providing financial relief to advocates in need and so far it had managed to raise Rs1 million from the donations of its own members for the purpose. He said that as many as 7,000 applications had been received by the council, which was 20 per cent of its members in the province, for financial support and at least Rs70 million was required to distribute amongst the lawyers at the rate of Rs10,000 per lawyer.

The high court was requested to direct the federal and provincial law ministries to provide the SBC an appropriate annual grant in aid sufficient for the performance of all its statutory duties and make a grant of at least Rs70 million for the SBC relief fund for distribution to the advocates in need.