Lawyers Attack on IHC Serious Than 1997 SC Storming: CJ IHC

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Signed Letter By CJ Athar Minhallah
Letter By Chief Justice Islamabad High Court to Bar

Islamabad, Feb 12: Chief Justice Islamabad High Court, Athar Minhallah, has written a letter asking the Pakistan Bar Council and Islamabad Bar Council to act against the lawyers who attacked the High Court, detained High Court Judges in their chambers and were involved in acts of violence, vandalism and obstruction to justice.

The Chief Justice IHC in his letter addressed to Vice Chairman Pakistan Bar Council Khushdil Khan and Vice Chairman Islamabad Bar Council, Zulfiqar Ali Abbasi, mentioned the detailed sequence of events which transpired on 8th February.

On 8th February, a group of 100-150 lawyers attacked the Islamabad High Court after Capital Development Authority (CDA) razed their illegally constructed chambers on encroached state land.

The lawyers attack was “more grave in nature than the storming of the august Supreme Court on 28th of November, 1997, which had led to the conviction of several elected members of the Majlis-e-Shoora (Parliament) and their disqualification for life,” Chief Justice Athar Minhallah said in his letter.

The unprecedented” historical letter is being reproduced below:

Mr Khushdil Khan,

Vice Chairman,

Pakistan Bar Council.

Mr Zulfiqar Ali Abbasi,

Vice Chairman,

Islamabad Bar Council.

It is probably unprecedented for a Chief Justice to be drawing the attention of regulatory authorities toward grave misconduct of members of the legal fraternity that must already be in the knowledge of the frontline regulators of legal practitioners having transpired in full

public view resulting in ignominy for all of us associated with this noble profession. Despite the grave nature of the incident, I have chosen to write to you in the first place, as I cannot imagine that the statutory regulatory authorities would remain oblivious to an event of such

magnitude causing grave consternation to all right thinking members of our society. Not doing so could have been seen as an acknowledgment of the failure of the regulatory framework governing the conduct of the enrolled advocates. The regulatory authorities, whether the Pakistan Bar Council or the Islamabad Bar Council, consist of elected representatives of the legal fraternity. 

Their allegiance and commitment to upholding the dignity of one of the most noble professions can neither be doubted nor undermined. It is this firm confidence and faith that has led me to bring to the notice of the respective regulatory authorities the facts of one of the most shocking and unimaginable incidents regarding the behavior and conduct of a handful of enrolled advocates. It was unthinkable that enrolled advocates dressed in uniform would storm the Islamabad High Court, violently vandalize its property and attempt to intimidate and threaten the Chief Justice and other Hon’ble Judges by keeping them detained for hours. It was definitely one of the most disturbing and despicable display of conduct by guardians of the law. The unimaginable conduct of a few was enough to bring collective shame upon the entire fraternity, besides eroding the confidence of the people of Pakistan. Their astounding conduct, violence and hooliganism must have had profound consequences for the repute of the entire legal fraternity.

On the 8th of February, 2021, between 9:00 and 9:30 a.m., while conducting judicial proceedings in my Court, I received a note from the Registrar that 100 to 150 lawyers, led by one of the members of the Islamabad Bar Council and some candidates contesting the forthcoming elections of the Islamabad High Court Bar Association, had left the premises of the District Courts and were marching towards the Islamabad High Court. It was informed that they were agitated and enraged because of the demolition of their chambers by the Capital Development Authority.

I continued the judicial proceedings because there was no reason to be alarmed. They were all enrolled advocates belonging to a noble profession which is based on the commitment to uphold its dignity. As the Chief Justice of a constitutional court, it was my administrative duty to give them a patient hearing. The Senior Superintendent of Police and other senior officials were present in the office of the Registrar because they apprehended a likely law and order situation. By no stretch of the imagination could a Chief Justice of a constitutional court have even remotely suspected that enrolled advocates dressed in uniform would take the law into their hands, let alone resorting to violence, vandalism and causing obstruction to justice. They were the same lawyers who had marched across the country during the historic lawyers’ movement to establish rule of law and restore the Constitution.

Regrettably what followed was unimaginable. I came to my chambers at about 10:15 a.m. After barely five minutes I heard loud banging and it sounded as if attempts were being made to forcibly open the doors of the entrance to the Chief Justice’s block. I went out of the chamber to ensure that their access was not obstructed by the security staff following routine security protocol because I could not imagine that they had intended to storm the High Court. I had barely reached the middle of the entrance hall when the outer doors were forcibly broken open. 

What ensued was a shocking display of travesty of dignity of one of the noblest professions. The enraged mob, all dressed in uniform, rushed towards me raising slogans and shouting at the top of their voices. Many were familiar because of their appearances in the Court. The Senior Superintendent of Police and other uniformed guards rushed out of the Registrar’s office in an attempt to protect me. As a Chief Justice, I felt that seeking protection of police officials from being harmed by the acts of enrolled advocates was an affront to the office I hold and thus they were ordered to leave. How can anyone on the Bench imagine enrolled advocates to breach the code of conduct of their exalted profession? But I was wrong. It was painful and disturbing to witness enrolled advocates brazenly vandalizing the premises of the Chief Justice’s block and the 1 Chambers. They used whatever they could lay hands on, including fire extinguishers, to damage State property. The enclosed photographs reflect the damage caused by the custodians of law to the property of the Court established to serve the people and protect their fundamental rights.

The unruly violent mob attempted to forcibly take me to the Bar room which I resisted. At about 10:45 a.m. other Hon’ble Judges reached the vandalized Chief Justice block. They also failed in persuading the violent mob to conform to the code of conduct and etiquettes of their adopted profession. Along with other Hon’ble Judges, I remained detained in my chambers till 02:30 p.m. The judicial proceedings of the Courts remained forcibly suspended for the remaining duration of the Court timings. At about 12:30 p.m., the Registrar informed me that the law enforcing agencies were about to initiate action to clear the premises and apprehend the miscreant lawyers so that I could be safely taken out. I refused because it could have reduced a constitutional court to a battleground and undermine the prestige and sanctity of a hallowed institution where justice is dispensed to all and sundry. When the mob of enrolled advocates realized that it was futile to intimidate and coerce me they started leaving the premises on the condition of meeting the office bearers of the Bar. I met the office bearers of the Bar at about 3.30 pm but the meeting was inconclusive.

The storming of the High Court on the 8th of February and the aforementioned acts of violence, rowdy behavior and vandalism of the premises of the High Court was probably more grave in nature than the storming of the august Supreme Court on 28th of November, 1997, which had led to the conviction of several elected members of the Majlis-e- Shoora (Parliament) and their disqualification for life. Their appeals were dismissed vide judgment reported as “Shahid Orakzal vs. Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz Group) [2000 SCMR 1969]. In this case enrolled advocates, the guardians of the rule of law and upholders of the dignity of the noble profession of law, were involved in desecrating their own alma mater by displaying shockingly violent and intolerable behavior and misconduct. No one is above the law nor immune from being accountable. A few lawyers have brought disrepute and shame to the entire legal fraternity. 

Should those who were involved in the aforementioned unimaginable misconduct be pardoned merely because they happen to be members of the Bar? Should such elements who tarnish the image of the majority of enrolled advocates be allowed to remain on the rolls of the most noble and prestigious profession? Those who had stormed the High Court on the 8th of February are known to the members of the Bar. They were ironically led by one of the members of the Islamabad Bar Council.

While the bench and the bar have their respective duties under the Legal Practitioners and Bar Councils Act, 1973, I wish to repose my trust and confidence in the regulatory framework and the commitment of the Pakistan Bar Council and the Islamabad Bar Council to uphold the dignity of the profession and restore the confidence of the real stakeholders I.e. the people of Pakistan, in the judicial branch of the State.

The law has to take its own course. There can be no tolerance nor any justification whatsoever for bringing the legal fraternity into disrepute through the above acts by enrolled advocates in breach of their code of conduct. A handful of miscreants on the rolls of the profession cannot be allowed to tarnish the image of the majority of lawyers who are committed to uphold the rule of law and dignity of their profession. It is the duty of every enrolled advocate to become a role model for others in the society.

Likewise, the Pakistan Bar Council and the Islamabad Bar Council owes a duty to uphold the dignity of the legal profession by demonstrably showing, through its disciplinary measures, that breach of code of conduct and etiquettes required to be observed by enrolled advocates is intolerable. The nature of accountability in the case of this misconduct ought to be such that no one who is part of the noble legal profession can ever think of attempting to breach the code of conduct in such a manner in the future. The dignity and sanctity of the elevated legal profession depends on the enforcement of the regulatory frame work by the Pakistan Bar Council or the Islamabad Bar Council, as the case may be. The legal framework is based on the principle of self-regulation. The frontline regulatory authorities are on trial so are the Courts.

Rest assured that this disgraceful and undignified act will be taken to its logical conclusion so that it is never repeated again and those involved be strictly dealt with in accordance with law. In this unfortunate background it is time for the Pakistan Bar Council and Islamabad Bar Council to also set a new precedent and break the tradition of silence and status quo and uphold the dignity of the courts by holding public accountability of these unruly elements in the Bar.

The whole nation is watching and looking at you as the prime regulator of the legal profession to take action before it is too late. I am hopeful that the Pakistan Bar Council or the Islamabad Bar Council, as the case may be, will discharge their obligations as conscientious regulators by promptly and demonstrably showing resolve to hold every enrolled advocate accountable who was involved or had aided or facilitated the storming of the Islamabad High Court and/or committed or aided or felicitated the commission of the aforementioned acts thus bringing our profession into disrepute and shaking public faith in members of the legal fraternity being foremost guardians of rule of law in the society.

(ATHAR MINALLAH)

CHIEF JUSTICE

Copy to;-

1. President, Supreme Court Bar Association.

2. The Members of Pakistan Bar Council.

3. The Members of Islamabad Bar Council.

4. The Members of Islamabad High Court Bar Association.

5. The Members of Islamabad District Bar Association.

6. Bar room of Islamabad High Court.

7. Bar room of Islamabad District Bar.

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