According to media reports, a group of lawyers supporting Pakistan Bar Council (PBC) member Maqsood Buttar, a suspect in a missing persons case, ran riot in the Lahore High Court the other day, assaulting counsel Asma Jahangir’s junior associate Barrister Usama Malik, manhandling the complainant Bilquis Zareena, and abusing Asma Jahangir and some other counsel on her team. The case has been brought by Ms Zareena for the recovery of her daughter Ayesha and her grandson Alyan Ali. Ms Ayesha is reported to have been a junior lawyer in Buttar’s office. He later married her (as his second wife) and had a son by her. The habeas corpus petition filed by Bilquis Zareena seeks the recovery of her daughter and grandson who have been missing for the past six months. She fears that their lives are in danger. According to the petitioner, her daughter had informed her that she and Maqsood Buttar had developed differences. Ayesha and her two-year-old son had been living in a flat in Model Town. Bilquis Zareena claims that Maqsood Buttar had tried to kill Ayesha once before by pushing her off a cliff near Murree, causing her multiple injuries and fractures. In November 2016, Bilquis Zareena visited her daughter’s residence in Model Town but she was not there. She also deposed that her family had been receiving threats from Buttar’s side. During the proceedings, Justice Abdul Sami Khan hearing the habeas corpus petition expressed displeasure at the DIG Investigations Sultan Ahmed requesting more time to complete the investigation. The petitioner’s counsel, Barrister Usama Malik, pointed to an all too familiar scenario in which the police had not issued a single summons to any of the suspects, even though an FIR was registered in December 2016. He accused the police of protecting Buttar. On the other hand, arguing on behalf of the legal fraternity, PBC member Ishtiaq Khan contended that the case against his colleague was fabricated, politically motivated, denied Buttar was related to the missing woman, and challenged the maintainability of the petition. After Justice Sami adjourned further hearing till June 23, Buttar’s lawyer supporters allegedly attacked Usama Malik, roughing him up and ripping his shirt because of umbrage at his daring to appear against Buttar. They also reportedly manhandled the complainant, Bilquis Zareena. While walking out of the court, they allegedly shouted profanities against Asma Jahangir.
This is neither the first nor, given the trajectory of many lawyers’ behaviour since the movement for the restoration of former Chief Justice of Pakistan Iftikhar Chaudhry and members of the superior judiciary removed by military dictator General Pervez Musharraf, likely to be the last. Since that historic movement led by the lawyers’ community, a strange sense of entitlement bordering on insanity has taken root amongst many in this community. Over the years since that seminal movement, instances of lawyers’ misbehaviour with and even resort to violence against judges, court officials, colleagues and litigants have grown exponentially. This has led many times to judges’ protests and strikes, cases being registered against the offending ‘guardians of the law’ and condemnation by wide swathes of opinion. However, in the absence of deterrent punishment by the judiciary, lawyers’ representative organisations and the authorities, the aggressive misbehaviour of offending lawyers has continued apace. The perpetrators of such abuses, it would be well to remind ourselves, are officers of the court, a status that places upon them the responsibility of upholding the law and the respect and dignity of the judiciary. The malady is by now so widespread that it hardly elicits treatment by the media that reflects its importance as a malign trend or the implications for the functioning of an already beleaguered judicial system, not to mention the offence it causes to every conscientious citizen of a civilised society. These bitter fruits of the lawyers’ movement are the unintended consequences of their sense of power after they contributed to the downfall of Musharraf. However, enough is enough. This loutish behaviour can no longer be tolerated. If the judiciary, lawyers’ bodies and the authorities fail to stop this trend, the offending lawyers should prepare themselves for a citizens’ backlash that will puncture their inflated egos and seriously affect not just their standing and credibility in society, but their ability to command briefs as well. Citizens’ boycotts are no longer a fantasy, as the brief fruit boycott recently proved. It is still not too late for sense to prevail and the incorrigible black sheep amongst the lawyers to be brought to heel. Failing that, an additional factor of disruption to the business of justice looms.