Striking at the heart of justice

EDITORIAL (October 05 2010): Every thesis is pregnant with its anti-thesis. According to German philosopher Hegel, greater unity and truth are achieved by dialectic of positing something (thesis), denying it (antithesis) and combining the two half truths in a synthesis. Hegel’s words appear to be so prophetic in many respects. For example, lawyers are on strike nearly all over the country, protesting police highhandedness against their colleagues in Lahore last week.The police had exhibited extreme brutality in the name of protecting Chief Justice Khwaja Sharif’s courtroom, a task the police could have done much less harshly. Not only this, the policemen also invaded the bar room, broke up a meeting of the lawyers’ leaders and charged them under the draconian anti-terror laws.Obviously, the excessive use of force by the police against the lawyers was taken suo motu notice by Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry. But the story of this ugly incident doesn’t end here. As the lawyers observed a strike, hundreds of judges in the lower courts of Punjab have retaliated by offering to resign en masse, pledging to stand by their senior colleague in Lahore, District and Sessions Judge Zawwar Sheikh, whose transfer is demanded by a group of Lahore lawyers.Both the lawyers and judges have acted unreasonably and in defiance of basic principles that define the parameters of their roles as the two wheels of the cart of justice. By seeking the transfer of the Lahore District and Sessions Judge Zawwar Sheikh, the lawyers had wanted to prove that they would determine who suits them; that’s not acceptable in any society, much less in Pakistan where the lawyers, civil society and the media had put up a heroic struggle, not long ago, in defence of an independent judiciary.

But the judges in the lower courts have also violated the law by acting collectively like a trade union, which is not permissible under the government service rules. They should have approached the court of law; in fact, the issue was already before the Lahore High Court and a way out of the impasse was being explored.Now that both the lawyers and judges have cast to the winds any respect for the rule of law, the legal system has taken a grievous hit: a case in point, on Monday, as the lawyers decided to violate Section 144, the Lahore police acted only as a spectator and offered no resistance.Tragically, this may be entirely a gladiatorial interplay between the two contending forces. But the price the ordinary litigants have to pay is huge and deserves serious consideration. On average a million litigants, mostly ordinary people of Pakistan, turn up at the courts every morning. What disappointment is being delivered to them by the very custodians of their right to justice.

Equally disturbing is the widely held belief that the ongoing confrontation between the bench and the bar has its genesis in national politics, which is presently plagued with intense Byzantism or a system which suggests a penchant for intrigues, plots and an overall unstable political state of affairs. Law Minister Babar Awan’s carpet-bagging to various bars in the country may have some noble motivation, we don’t know. But the impression remains that he is out to create schisms within the lawyers’ community at a time when some important cases against the government are before the Supreme Court.e would hate to think that such an effort would make any ripples at the level of the apex court, but the fact cannot be denied that the great strength that the lawyers’ movement had lent to the concept of an independent judiciary in Pakistan, seems to have been grossly undermined.

Admittedly, lawyers have interest groups and political affiliations but so far, it had not caused such a dangerous and self-destructing division. Unfortunately, things as they stand today tend to suggest that peace and tranquillity can be restored by compromising some basic principles of justice.Should Zawwar Sheikh be transferred just because some lawyers don’t like his way of working, want it? Could the police be a silent witness to the attack on the LHC Chief Justice’s courtroom? How much police highhandedness is justified? And, why did not Prime Minister Gilani or his cabinet stop Babar Awan from undertaking his loyalty-buying errands? The question remains: Don’t we see an antithesis of the heroic struggle for an independent judiciary being crafted by the very people who worked for the thesis, the lawyers – Brecorder