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Silence Of The Lambs: How To Heal Pakistan’s Relationship With Its Lawyers

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Silence of the Lambs was a blockbuster Hollywood movie released in 1991. The character of FBI trainee Clarice Starling, played by Jodie Foster, is constantly haunted by the screaming of the lambs due to her traumatic childhood during which she got terrified by the slaughtering of lambs on her relatives’ farm in Montana. She believed that by killing a serial killer nicknamed Buffalo Bill and saving young women from his nefarious activities, she would be doing good for the society which would also eventually help her to get rid of her nightmares.

The incident at the Punjab Institute of Cardiology (PIC) where some lawyers ran riot, resulting in the deaths of innocent civilians, will be a nightmare for all those aspiring lawyers who believed in the “rule of law.” These young aspiring lawyers would have to show through their spirit, enthusiasm and discipline that earning money should not be their only goal to enter into this profession, but instead they would devote themselves selflessly towards the cause of helping people in their just causes. Only in this way can the lawyers can transform their image in the public so that people know that lawyers are agents of change rather than goons.

A lawyer must understand that they are considered officers of court and hence they have a duty to adhere to the standards and duties of a lawyer laid down in the Legal Practitioners and Bar Councils Rules and Acts. The lawyers’ conduct on the 11th of December at the Punjab Institute of Cardiology (PIC) in Lahore grossly infringed upon the code of ethics provided in the Legal Practitioners and Bar Councils Act 1973 and constituted an offence punishable under the Pakistan Penal Code 1860.

I will not flinch to say that the entire responsibility for the disgraceful incident falls on the bar council involved — the Punjab Bar Council. By virtue of section 41 of the 1973 Act, a provincial bar council can suspend or remove a lawyer from practice. Or it can order a lawyer to pay an amount as compensation, fine or penalty if that individual is found guilty of professional misconduct. Nevertheless, the so-called disciplinary committees of the provincial bar councils have never performed their duties or exercised their powers in letter and in spirit. In 2018, the Higher Education Commission’s verifications showed that the LLB degrees of more than 205 lawyers were fake.

On the 11th of December, 2019, the lawyers did not even spare provincial information minister and media persons. They torched a police van, fired gunshots and pelted police with bricks and stones. This disgraceful act from a professional community which represents the law and constitution of a democratic country has made the nation hang its head in shame and remorse.

It is time to have the rule of law and not tribalism. Hence, no one should go scot-free. All involved, who are easily identifiable – including the nephew of the prime minister alleged to have been involved – should be barred from practicing and be prosecuted. Moreover, lawyers’ and doctors’ associations should hold peaceful rallies together in all cities, apart from Lahore, and show us that we have professionals who think of humanity first. It is time for a federal government to take this responsibility to guide those who are on the wrong path and especially suspend the licenses of those lawyers involved in this rowdy behaviour.

Under the fourth schedule of legislative list mentioned in the constitution 1973, the legal profession is a federal subject.

Hence one crucial step at this juncture that the federal government can take is to make amendments in the Legal Practitioners and Bar Council Act. They can confer the power of suspending a lawyer’s license on the federal government or law ministry rather than leaving it to the concerned provincial bar council.

In my view, this is a perfect case for taking suo moto action by the honourable Chief Justice of Pakistan under Article 184(3) of the Constitution of the Islamic republic of Pakistan. The honourable chief justice must direct the Punjab Bar Council to suspend the licenses of these lawyers involved in this hooliganism. Last but not least, this is a sheer failure of the Punjab government – that they could not prevent the ransacking of the hospital and the overall situation of disorderliness.

For their part, young lawyers who wish to atone for their actions can consider offering pro bono litigation services. Such steps can prove that people belonging to this profession are agents of change, who think of humanity first. Otherwise the horrifying vandalism witnessed at Punjab Institute of Cardiology would constantly haunt us – much like what we saw in the movie Silence of the Lambs.

The writer is a constitutional lawyer, human rights activist and a teacher.

He can be contacted at [email protected]

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