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July 12, 2020

SHC seeks report on CM’s approval for providing funds to needy lawyers

Karachi

July 12, 2020

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

An additional advocate general Sindh filed a statement on behalf of the law secretary, which stated that the Sindh finance department had allocated an amount of Rs20 million during the current fiscal year 2020-21 as grant in aid for the lawyers association and placed at disposal of the law department an advice for developing a methodology and criteria for identifying the most deserving members of the lawyers community who may also be determined by the committee already constituted by the court.

A division bench of the SHC headed by Justice Khadim Hussain M Sheikh directed the law officer to submit a comprehensive report with regard to the approval of funds as well as file a report on the SBC and the bar associations’ requests for regular funds, and adjourned the hearing till August 8.

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

The petitioners’ 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 work and means of sustenance and the impact of the lockdown on the legal fraternity had been severe since most of the lawyers were self-employed and earned fees through routine litigation or assignments undertaken on behalf of litigants on a daily basis and now they were unable to provide for even their family’s basic needs.

The counsel explained that the legal fraternity had been entirely neglected in various relief packages announced by the federal and provincial governments. He said numerous concessionary loan packages announced by the State Bank of Pakistan for small businesses and self-employed persons were 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 even though they were equally entitled to relief during the COVID-19 crises.

He said the SBC had established its relief fund to provide financial relief to advocates in need and so far it had managed to raise Rs1 million from donations. He added that as many as 7,000 applications had been received by the council which were from 20 per cent of its members in the province and to provide them financial support, the bar council required at least Rs70 million for the distribution of Rs10,000 to every needy 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 to the SBC’s relief funds for the purpose of distribution to advocates in need.