Lahore   -  A committee consisting of incumbent and former office bearers of the Lahore High Court Bar Association (LHCBA) was constituted here on Monday to find a solution to the rift between lawyers’ groups on the issue of new LHC benches.

Currently the LHC has three benches in Multan, Rawalpindi and Bahawalpur, while the protesting lawyers demand LHC benches in Faisalabad, Gujranwala, Dera Ghazi Khan, Sargodha and Sahiwal too.

The committee consists of LHCBA President Ch Noor Samand Khan, Vice President Hafiz Afsaarul Haq, former president Ahsan Bhoon, LHCBA member Mian Abdul Quddus, former LHCBA president Pir Masood Chishti and Shafqat Mehmood Chohan. LHCBA Secretary Hasan Iqbal was nominated convener of the body.

The committee will hold today at 1:30pm discussions with the presidents of all the five divisional bar associations today at LHCBA’s conference room to solve the issue of the formation of LHC benches at divisional level across the Punjab.

The meeting’s purpose is to find a solution to the issue according to the constitution and the law.

The participants expressed concerns over the prolonged strike in the courts over the issue. They said that due to the crisis, the litigants and accused confined in jails were suffering the most. They also said that the boycott of the court proceedings was also hurting the lawyers’ dignity.

Besides the committee members, other bar office-bearers will also take part in the today’s discussions. They include: Asghar Ali Gill, Abid Saqi, former bar presidents Rana Zia, Ch Zulfiqar Ali, bar member Azam Nazir Tarar, Ch M Ramazan and Lahore Bar Association President Malik Arshad. The committee is also aimed to bridge the gulf between the lawyers’ groups on the issue.

Strike has been continued in Sargodha, Faisalabad and other areas for the establishment of LHC benches while the Lahore Bar Association has turned the Punjab Bar Council’s call to go on strike in solidarity with the protesting lawyers.

The LBA turned the week-long strike call made by the Punjab Bar Council (PbBC) across Punjab province against delay in the formation of Lahore High Court benches in other divisions. Amidst boycott of the protesting lawyers, the black coats in the provincial capital are appearing in the courts as a routine and do not boycott the legal proceedings.

LBA Secretary General Sohail Murshad when contacted said that the LBA office-bearers had not been taken into confidence before making the strike call by the Punjab Bar Council. He was of the view that the matter was pertaining to the lawyers of those regions where the LHC benches were not being established. “Why should we (lawyers in Lahore) go on strike,” he questioned.

On the other side, the PbBC announced strike on the “refusal” of provincial law ministry to hold “previously scheduled” talks with the lawyers on the formation of division benches.

The PbBC leaders took out a protest rally from the PbBC building to the Lahore High Court and also staged a sit-in so as to express solidarity with the lawyers demanding establishment of LHC benches in Gujranwala, Sargodha and other regions of the province.

On December 5, PbBC’s Executive Committee Member Raheel Kamran Sheikh moved a petition in the Supreme Court seeking its indulgence for increasing the number of LHC benches in different divisions. The petition seeks directions of the top court for establishment of LHC’s new benches in Faisalabad, Gujranwala, Dera Ghazi Khan, Sargodha and Sahiwal. It also challenged the decision of Full Court Meeting of LHC held on 15 to 17 July 2016, wherein demand of establishment of more benches was rejected.

The protesters say for the last more than one decade, there has been a persistent demand made by the district bar associations of Faisalabad, Gujranwala, Dera Ghazi Khan, Sargodha and Sahiwal for the establishment of new benches of the High Court.

They are of the view that for them the access to justice is more expensive, less convenient and manifestly discriminatory compare to other citizens who are residents of Rawalpindi, Multan and Bahawalpur where permanent Benches of the High Court have been established since 1981.

They say in order to file cases and attend hearings, litigants and their counsels from these Divisions have been burdened with travelling distances, costs of boarding or lodging and transportation.

They regret that the same is a time consuming exercise also. They say in many cases, matters are adjourned on various dates. The litigants are constrained to engage advocates stationed at Lahore or other Divisions where Benches have been established, for higher fees that are commensurate with their higher costs of living and practicing.” They say the establishment of new benches is definitely a matter of public importance involving enforcement of a number of fundamental rights of the citizens, Article 19A of the Constitution itself guarantees the right to information in all such matters.

Shahzad Ahmad