Being a registered member of the Lahore High Court Bar Association, or any other local or provincial Bar Association for that matter, during the months of October and November, can be a bothersome endeavor. These are the days and weeks leading up to the Bar elections (which, at least in Lahore, are to be held next week).

During this time, the Court surroundings and chambers are decked up with life-size (and larger) photo-posters of the candidates vying for office. At each turn of the Court premises, each hallway, each Bar-room, there is a junta of individuals “humbly” requesting other lawyers to vote for the candidate of their choice. The candidates (who are easy to spot, given the large posse of younger lawyers following them) are seen distributing pocket-cards and coat-badges, along with a repeating of long-forgotten promises of Bar reform, of humility, and a new sense of purpose in Bar leadership. There are the frequent endorsement parties, full of self-congratulatory rhetoric, frequently delving upon the “qurbanis” rendered in the fabled Lawyer’s Movement. And, not to mention, the daily frenzy of hundreds of unsolicited text messages, endorsing one candidate or another.

Then suddenly, once the election is concluded, and the customary follow-up celebrations have been completed, everyone goes back to regular life. The posters, plastered all across the court premises, slowly start to rot in a clutter. While the elected officers become local power brokers, and (allegedly) reap personal benefits from their political success. But year after year, this election frenzy culminates in no real reform of the Bar practices or culture. There is no real move towards enforcing ethical standards in Bar practices. No palpable push towards continuing education for lawyers. No introduction of stringent standards for the enrolment of Advocates. No guidance or career-counseling for young Advocates. No coherent policy towards judicial elevation. No review of the strike culture.

And thus, as we lead into this final week of Bar elections, it is important to critically review our Bar culture and practices, with a view to reform this ‘institution’ of advocacy. In fierce belief that reform of the Bar is inextricably related to reforming the project of justice in Pakistan.

Speaking as a lawyer: let us have the humility and courage to accept that we – the lawyers, as individuals, and Bar Associations, as institutions – have contributed to the deprecation of our justice system. Let us start with recognizing the truth that lawyers (even more so than the judiciary!) have the loudest say in determining what cases are brought to our courts of law, how they are argued, and the manner and speed in which they are disposed off. We advise the clients about which litigation is material, or frivolous. We assist the courts in terms of the law and procedure. And most importantly, we are the face, and the reflection, of our justice system within the society, and among the public in general.

And, therefore, reform, like charity, must begin at home.

Let us summon the honesty to accept that the greatest hindrance in the speedy dispensation of justice in this land, is the conduct and lack of professionalism in our legal community today.

How many times, are cases adjourned because a lawyer for one of the parties does not tender appearance (being “indisposed” elsewhere)? And even when we do show up, how many times, each day, in every court, do we witness orders along the lines of “The counsel seeks additional time to file a reply. Adjourned to such and such date.”? Can we really then sit in the bar room, sipping tea, and criticize the legislators or the judges for not instituting measures that reduce the back-log of cases?

Reform, like charity, begins at home.

What about our degree and level of preparation and professionalism? Do some of us not, every day, break our covenant of professionalism, culminating in orders such as, “The counsel seeks further time to prepare his case.”? Is this not a grave violation of our responsibility as officers of the court? Is this not a betrayal of the trust that our clients have placed in us? And, perhaps most importantly, is it not infidelity to the spirit of law, and to those highest ideals of justice that each of us have taken an unspoken oath to defend and protect?

And about this culture of strikes?

Despite its countless gains, one of the most disturbing legacies of the Lawyer’s Movement, is this newfound belief that hooliganism, and boycotting the courts, is the best way for us – the guardians of our Constitution – to express a point or register a protest.

Over the past some years, members of our community have beaten-up police officials and media personnel with impunity. We have thrashed district judges in Faisalabad. We prevented the Sessions Judge of Lahore to work at his post, and threatened him with physical harm. We vandalized the premises of the honorable Supreme Court. We boycotted the courts in response to media scandals, and terrorism events. We have observed strikes for when a traffic warden misbehaved with a few lawyers. And we shut down our courts, when a corrupt business-tycoon alleged corruption upon a prodigal son.

Reform, like charity, begins at home.

The genie is out of the bottle; and no one knows how to put it back again. With all the talk that surrounds rule of law and independence of judiciary in our land, perhaps attention is required on the issue of lawyers and bar associations acting beyond the contours of professional responsibility and ethics. And this issue must be front and center for any and all candidates participating in the upcoming Bar elections. Because till such time as we instil a sense of constitutionalism in these officers of the courts, there can be little hope of embracing constitutionalism as our national ethos.

Let us not forget that the black coat we wear, is the same uniform that Mohmmad Ali Jinnah once wore. Let us be reminded that we are the inheritors of an unblemished tradition of professionalism. That we live and breathe, in the shadow of giants. And those giants, through the construct of our law and the Constitution, have placed a solemn duty upon our undeserving shoulders. A duty that our profession and its creed will one day shine the light of law in the darkest of corners of this country. That we will be the voice of those who cannot speak, the strength of those who cannot stand, guardians of those who are meek, and the hope of those who no longer believe in the future of this land. That through the ideals that we represent and uphold, the oppressed and subjugated masses will once again inherit the earth.

Let this be the mantra of the Bar elections.

The writer is a lawyer based in Lahore. He has a Masters  in Constitutional Law from Harvard Law School.

saad@post.harvard.edu

@Ch_SaadRasool