Cab-rank rule may provide a way out

Access to justice is a fundamental right of people that is enshrined in the Constitution. However, for many, access to justice remains elusive due to various factors, such as cost, distance and lack of information. In this context, the cab-rank rule plays a vital role in ensuring that justice is accessible to all.

The cab-rank rule is a centuries-old principle that requires barristers to accept instructions in the order they are received, regardless of their personal opinions or prejudices. The rule is intended to ensure that all individuals, regardless of their status or wealth, have access to the best available legal representation.

The cab-rank rule is especially relevant in Pakistan, where the legal system is often perceived as being biased against those who cannot afford high-end legal representation. In this context, the rule serves as a bulwark against the influence of power, privilege and personal relationships in the allocation of legal representation.

In Pakistan, the cab-rank rule is enshrined in the Legal Practitioners and Bar Councils Act, 1973. The rule requires advocates to accept instructions in the order they are received, subject to certain exceptions. The exceptions include conflicts of interest, prior commitments, and cases where the advocate does not have the requisite expertise to handle the matter.

While the cab-rank rule is an essential principle, its implementation in Pakistan has been somewhat lacking. There have been instances where advocates have refused to take on cases for various reasons, including personal bias and lack of interest. Such conduct is not only a violation of the cab-rank rule, but also undermines the fundamental right of individuals to have access to justice.

To ensure that the cab-rank rule is exercised effectively in Pakistan, the legal profession must take proactive steps. First, the bar councils must ensure that the rule is widely known and understood by all advocates. Second, the bar councils must enforce the rule rigorously and penalise any advocate who violates it.

The legal profession must work to address the root causes of the reluctance of advocates to take on certain cases. This may involve providing training and support to advocates in handling complex cases or creating a more conducive environment for advocates to take on pro bono cases.

The judiciary must play an active role in enforcing the cab-rank rule. Judges must ensure that advocates are held accountable for any violation of the rule, and that litigants are not denied access to justice due to the misconduct of advocates.

The cab-rank rule is a vital principle that ensures that justice is accessible to all in a country. However, its implementation must be strengthened to ensure that it is exercised effectively. This requires a concerted effort by the legal profession and the judiciary to enforce the rule rigorously and address any underlying issues that may impede its implementation.

As a country that values the rule of law and access to justice, Pakistan must continue to uphold the cab-rank rule as a cornerstone of its legal system. By doing so, it can ensure that all individuals, regardless of their social and financial status, can access the best available legal representation and receive justice in a perfectly fair and impartial manner.

GHULAM NABI ABBASI

KARACHI

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