Thursday, June 22, 2017

Pakistan - Shame on Lahore High Court thuggery

Yet again have we witnessed a Pakistani court of law transformed into a virtual wrestling ring by none other than members of the legal fraternity themselves. This latest display of thuggery took place during the hearing of a habeas corpus petition involving a woman reportedly missing for six months. Members of the legal team of petitioner’s counsel Asma Jahangir, former president of the Supreme Court Bar Association and a renowned rights activist, were reportedly manhandled by lawyers associated with a prominent Lahore-based lawyer accused of having orchestrated the abduction of the missing woman.
In 2007, Pakistan bore witness to a remarkable lawyers’ movement for supremacy of the Constitution and rule of law. Back then, mainstream political parties and civil society rightly joined the lawyers’ cause.
However, ever since the success of the movement in securing the restoration of the then chief justice to his office, there has been no dearth of incidents involving the use of highhanded tactics by lawyers who seem to be answerable to no authority. This trend of complete disregard for the law has included incidents whereby judges have been prevented from discharging their duties.
This should be a cause for concern for the bar councils regulating the profession across the country. It is of utmost importance that a code of conduct is developed by these bodies in consultation with bar associations and those found violating the code are stripped of their licences to practice law. This code should apply equally to those occupying offices in bar councils.
Tuesday’s incident has also highlights the unfinished task of making public spaces safe for women. During the courtroom incident, associates of the lawyer accused of abducting the missing woman hurled sexist abuse at a woman lawyer from Ms Jahangir’s legal team. Use of such terms is a tried-and-tested practice in patriarchal social and professional contexts of ‘shaming’ women into silence. Pakistan’s women have come a long way in their struggle for access to the public space, an end to gender-based discrimination and the provision of fundamental rights. That we have laws against workplace harassment and domestic violence is singularly a result of their activism — as part of the broader activism towards the strengthening of democracy. If disdainful patriarchy still comes in the way of women professionals — it is a sign that work is still needed to ensure better implementation of pro-women laws and the expansion of the scope of these laws to ensure the provision of safe and secure work environments.
This is all the more important when it comes to the courts, considering that these are the only fora where citizens in distress can expect to seek remedy due to them under their social contract with the state. Our courts cannot claim to discharge this constitutional duties diligently if women citizens — whether as litigants or as lawyers — are made to feel unsafe and uncomfortable within their premises. 

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