Supremacy of the Supreme

Tussle between the bar and bench, which took an ugly turn last week, has finally been settled. What looked like an irresolvable conflict saw a surprise conclusion when Executive Committee of the Punjab Bar Council (EC-PBC) decided to exercise its unwritten, unspoken, unreal and unimaginable jurisdiction. By assuming appellate jurisdiction over high court, EC-PBC has set aside the five member bench’s order dated 21-08-2017 whereby license of an advocate had been suspended.

This pro-active step of the PBC is being criticized by some who are oblivious to the concept of ‘jurisprudential evolution’; and who rely a tad too much on concepts like common sense and sanity.

First; you cannot ignore the outright honesty of EC-PBC in admitting its own authority, or lack thereof, to pass such an order. If you read the operative lines carefully and add proper punctuation, you can’t ignore this subtle admission. Following is what a man deprived of “intellectual insight” may have read;

“So the impugned order dated 21-08-2017 is declared to be illegal, void, ab-initio, without lawful authority and jurisdiction,..”

This is how those capable of seeing through the legal jargon and spotting the subtle honesty may have read it;

“So the impugned order dated 21-08-2017 is declared – without lawful authority and jurisdiction – to be illegal, void ab-initio..”

Surprisingly, some elements in the legal community have out rightly rejected this visionary, revolutionary and necessary display of judicial activism from a non-judicial body. Hmph! Was this move unprecedented? Yes. Unreasonable? Yes. Unusual? Yes. Unnecessary? No, well yes but then no.

Lawyers and the PBC were left with no other option. This was the only way to assert their dominion over all other state entities. “We didn’t like doing this, we didn’t know what we were doing either, but it had to be done..we think” was the assertive statement from a well known lawyer who is thought to be behind this brilliant move.

Following suit, a few of Lahore’s leading law firms have decided to constitute benches comprising of their most senior partners to adjudicate appeals in cases decided against the firm. It is likely that PBC may discourage such a move owing to its undoubted, unquestionable, unseen, unnoticeable and unflinching belief in the rule of law.

Most excited of all on hearing of this order was a close aide of the now ousted Prime Minister. He couldn’t wait to break this news to his leader. On condition of anonymity he shared his party’s probable plans in light of this development;

“We are not going to waste time and money on review petitions before the Supreme Court. We had already pointed towards the people’s court. Guided by this revolutionary measure, we may constitute a bench of our own to decide our appeal against the Supreme Court’s verdict. We may not even need to, since our GT road rally can well be taken as the people’s court. You may see an order soon saying that the honorable bench of the people’s court comprising of 10000 honorable people has set aside – without lawful authority or jurisdiction – the supreme court’s order.”

The EC-PBC’s order will meet criticism from the bench, also from some members of the bar, but we shouldn’t lose sight of the big picture here. Thus, as per an anonymous source in PBC,  the council is mulling over issuing a direction to all lawyers making it mandatory for each law office to hang, on a prominent wall, a big picture.

My brothers in the fraternity who couldn’t see the order for what it is, I ask you to revisit and reconsider. How hard is it to see that we stand for the rule of law and nothing can stand in our way, not even law itself. For those who still cannot see the wisdom in this move; to you my dear sirs; the Emperor will always be nude.

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Fraternity, Bar and Much Needed Reforms

You need badgers; lawyers, usually young ones, who would decorate their chest with a badge carrying the name of, and showing support for, a particular candidate for a particular seat in the bar’s cabinet. You need to host teas, lunches and dinners in honor of your voters and supporters. The number of attendees, and the amount spent, at times foretells a candidate’s fate in the elections. You need to pay license renewal and registration fees for lawyers and effectively propagate how many millions you have spent for the “welfare” of your fraternity.

You need demagoguery more than anything else; a candidate has to be a champion demagogue. There are promises to work for welfare of the bar and bar members. But before that, and way more imperative, is the assurance of his support whenever, wherever and however needed. He must promise that he will stand with the bar in any dispute. It has to be a pledge of unflinching support, subject to no consideration whatsoever.

Such attributes do not make bar politics entirely dissimilar to electoral politics in general. In fact there is less disconnect between the voter and the voted in the bar. However, bar politics has played a significant role in harming and polarizing the legal fraternity; wherein intellectual, ideological and ethical disparities are immense and grow consistently.

There’s a south pole; densely populated owing to better conditions and a more suitable environment for the indigenous. And the north pole; which seemed uninhabited for the silent and non-interfering nature of its inhabitants, however, of late there have been signs of life; thank God for that. Ideological path that leads to the north is jagged and intricate, discouraging many a traveler even before they embark upon the journey. Summer prevails in the south, not of discontent but of disorder, disobedience and disrespect, as has been evident from several instances of abuse of power, violation of ethical codes and misuse of process. One wishes for winter and, maybe, winter is coming.

Politics, or bar politics, is not inherently vile or disadvantageous; it is the form it has taken that makes it a cause for concern. For instance, in practice, it is not essential for any candidate to swear allegiance to the constitution or law because that is not a priority for the voter; not the foremost priority at least. Loyalty to the fraternity is what matters most. This puts the concept of ‘rule of law’ in considerable peril. Man has never been a fan of rules and laws. Unchecked and without a code to govern him, man would invariably choose self preservation and self interest over community welfare.

In recent years the trend of pressurizing courts for relief has become a norm. Tactics may vary from using a cabinet member to bringing numbers to the court. For newcomers to the fraternity, knowing and understanding the law is becoming more and more redundant. Being an apt litigant is considered unnecessary, having support of friends and colleagues is deemed more fruitful for the purpose of success. Fresh graduates thus have to ask themselves if they want to be a “good” lawyer or a “successful” one, since unfortunately, these are now two different objectives.

Young lawyers are greater in number, thanks to the sharp increase in inductions over the past decade. They comprise a huge chunk of registered voters and of voter groups. When candidates offer them unconditional support, they promise subservience to their whims and wishes. A youth that ought to have been mentored and nurtured by seniors, instead becomes the guide.

This is a noble profession that, as per my firm belief, still comprises more good than bad elements. Ignorance of and complacency towards certain evils over the past few years, along with some ill-conceived measures, has put our fraternity in jeopardy and brought a bad name to us among the masses. Winter ought to come; reforms must be made. There may only be a minority of black sheep among the black coats but the majority is being exploited; their silence and indifference is only aiding the exploitation. This has to stop. The bar and bench have differences, and neither is perfect. What we need to understand is that we are not the bench, we are the bar. Unless we rid ourselves of all imperfections, or most of them at least, we won’t have a high moral horse to mount.

It is time we pay attention to the elephant in the room that is fake degrees and credentials. In addition to verifying educational qualifications of newcomers, those already enrolled as advocates should offer themselves for scrutiny. There should be a strict ban on all political activities for every lawyer in the first five years of his/her practice. They should only be enrolled as a registered voter after being certified to have appeared before courts and pleaded a certain number of cases. We need to surrender self-regulation, or at the very least, regulation by an elected body. Instead bar disciplinary committees should have, as members, well reputed members of the fraternity who do not depend for votes or favor on the very community they aim to discipline and check.

The legal community, without desperately needed reforms, is trying to dig its way out of a hole. If we don’t act now, we will only go deeper and deeper into the abyss.

The Gulalai Drama and our Media’s Incitement to Idiocy

(An unfortunately necessary disclaimer: No the word “drama” in the title does not mean what you think it means. Please look it up.)

The alleger alleges, the accused defends and a few million spew nothing but nonsense. Equally abhorrent are both; the tendency to out-rightly reject Gulalai’s accusations and to believe them without any investigation; the attacks on her person and family and the attacks on the accused on mere allegations. Have we lost all objectivity? Is the word “polarized” now insufficient to describe our social and political discourse, have we gone way beyond being just opinionated? Has idiocy actually and finally taken over?

A woman comes forward with an allegation of sexual harassment against her party’s chairperson and another senior leader along with allegations of corruption against a provincial government. Sexual harassment immediately takes centre stage since corruption is immaterial as long as it exists on “my” side of the line. The woman is questioned, grilled, doubted and then questioned some more. By an investigative agency? No, by spokespersons of the accused and by our all righteous media. Wrong? yes. She is also supported, defended and encouraged. By her family or lawyers? No, by arch rivals of the accused party, some confused rights activists and another segment of our all righteous media. Just? No.

They say Gulalai has shown great courage by hurling accusations at a popular and powerful person. Really? When has it been difficult to accuse a politician? From allegations – some proven absolutely false later on – of rape, corruption, treachery to those of immorality and indecency, hasn’t the politician always been the easiest target? Yes, as a woman raising her voice against a man in our very patriarchal society, Gulalai may be deemed courageous. But then again, the accused being a politician opposed and despised by the ruling party makes it a tad easier.

They say this incident has brought to light the woes of women and the hardships they face in our male dominated society. Even if it does, its aftermath has brought to far brighter light the rise of idiocy, intolerance and bigotry. Woes of women have been brought to light by victims before, when we conveniently chose to look the other way. Amna Bibi; the 18 year old rape victim for instance, who kept struggling for justice and eventually set herself ablaze in front of a police station because not enough of us thought she exposed the woes of women, poor and the ordinary, because no minister or leader called her his sister and promised justice, because no channel ran her story over and over again or named the culprits again and again and again and because she failed to trend on twitter. This does not mean that just because we failed her, we ought to fail every subsequent victim of physical or verbal abuse, but this does reflect on our selective morality.

They say Gulalai does not make sense and her allegations seem made-up, concocted and part of a plot to defame a political party and its leadership. We are all judges without robes, rostrums and courts. With a very few exceptions, a huge majority has already given their verdict for or against Gulalai and the sad fact is that no real verdict from an actual judicial forum is going to change it. Responsible, or so they appear, politicians have suggested burning Gulalai’s house to the ground, other enthusiasts have incited fellows to throw acid on her, all the while screaming how women are not unsafe. Defenders of the accused have presented brilliant logics to question Gulalai’s integrity and decency by referring to her sister’s attire. These may not have been issues of serious concern had they not been presented, repeated or endorsed by our media.

They say Khan has a history of “misadventures” when it comes to women around him. Thus, even if Gulalai has not presented any evidence yet, she ought to be believed without question. Some have even gone on to vouch for her on oath without seeing the evidence.

A certain channel holds that since Khan did not respond to the allegation immediately, it implies that he is guilty. Another says that since Gulalai chose to keep mum over the alleged harassment for a few years, it implies that she is dishonest. Both stances are equally ridiculous.

Electronic and social media; talk shows, tweets and posts make your head spin. They render redundant the looming issues of harassment, women empowerment and equality before law and instead make you wonder how the poles in our polarized society are ever expanding. Bigotry is the only norm in debate and partiality clouds our judgment. With the media aiding and abetting, only the worse awaits us.