- Staring off a debate
While lawyers are quick to jump in with claims of accountability for other professions, it appears that when the question of their own accountability arises, they close ranks and take refuge behind the principle of the independence of the judiciary. This seemed to be the reason why the Supreme Court Bar Association so roundly criticized the proposed law, which provides for the lifetime revocation of a lawyer’s license to practice if he is found guilty of physical violence against any individual. The SCBA condemned this, claiming that its own accountability mechanisms were strong, and thus the proposal was merely an attempt by the government to get its back on lawyers for backing Mr Justice Qazi Faez Isa of the Supreme Court against the government, which is supposed to have filed a reference against him to the Supreme Judicial Council because of a judgment he had given. His case had been taken to court by lawyers’ organisations, including the SCBA.
The problem that the lawyers’ community faces is that it hasn’t made much of a fist at self-accountability. The attack on the Punjab Institute of Cardiology, in which the hospital was trashed and patients manhandled, has not resulted in any punishment. That was merely a sample. Other incidents have included the beating-up of session court judges in their courtrooms, or strikes against judges who have not given lawyers’ clients bail. Self-accountability is all very well, but as lawyers have to be convicted of assault by judges who are counted as part of the judicial community, or disbarred by the Pakistan Bar Council, which is elected by lawyers, it is difficult to see how lawyers are restrained by anyone or anything.
The proposed legislation should thus be used as an opportunity for the important debate of how to conduct true accountability of both Bench and Bar. It is not that the judicial community alone that needs reform; but someone must take the first step. The Bar should take part, for if it insists on an obdurate insistence on its own perfection, it could end up being reformed without a voice in the process.