Bar turning against the bench?

An issue that could have been amiably resolved three months ago has been allowed to take an alarming turn. Police action against lawyers and Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry’s suo motu notice of the issue, for the moment, seems to have pushed to the background the unruly behaviour of the lawyers, who vandalised the courtroom of Chief Justice Khwaja Mohammad Sharif to protest against District and Sessions Judge Zawar Ahmad Sheikh. Regrettably, these are the same lawyers who fought so valiantly against Musharraf’s dictatorship and for the restoration of the judiciary. Going by a series of instances of lawyers’ highhandedness that have happened since the restoration of the judges, it now appears that their concept of the rule of law is the rule of their whims and fancies. If they do not like any colleague or judge, they are not averse to using mob violence to intimidate them into submission. The turning of the bar against the bench has tarnished the image of the legal fraternity and lowered the dignity this profession achieved after their struggle.

It is surprising that in the presence of highly accomplished members on the LHC bench, this issue could not be resolved when it first came up in July. Justice Sheikh, who otherwise enjoys a good reputation, had been accused of misbehaving with a lawyer in court, due to which the LBA initially demanded his transfer, which culminated in the lawyers’ attack on the chief justice’s courtroom three months later. Police mishandling of the situation in their traditional colonial style has made things worse. Following police violence against them, the lawyers’ demand for transfer of Sessions Judge Zawar Ahmad Sheikh has now morphed into demands for the resignation of the chief justice LHC.

It is unfortunate that in its show of defiance, the Lahore Bar Association (LBA) has gone so far as to reject the three-member committee constituted by the chief justice of Pakistan to fix responsibility for police action against lawyers. At a time when all other leading lights of the lawyers’ movement have distanced themselves from the unruly behaviour of LBA members, Ahmad Ali Kurd’s show of support for LBA’s demands has created more agitation and raised the tension instead of calming the situation. Protests have now spread to the rest of the country, with lawyers boycotting courts in support of LBA. On the other hand, 1,300 members of the lower judiciary tendered their resignations as a gesture of solidarity with the District and Session Judge Zawar Ahmad Sheikh, who has been sent on four months forced leave. Although their resignations have not been accepted, it would be difficult for them to work in an atmosphere where they can be mistreated by any lawyer who disagrees with them.

There is a need for the swift resolution of this issue. Litigants are the worst sufferers of this situation, who are being affected by the absence of both lawyers and judges. If the lawyers are allowed the role of deciding who will sit in the judiciary, then the whole purpose of the lawyers’ movement will be defeated. The LHC, sensible leaders of the lawyers’ movement, representatives of LBA as well as the committee constituted by the SC will have to decide this matter on principle. Submitting to the pressure of the lawyers would set a bad precedent and no member of the bench would be safe from their highhandedness. The independence of the judiciary cannot be surrendered to this kind of hooliganism – Dailytimes