A tribute to the unknown lawyer

A tribute to the unknown lawyer By Dr Tariq Hassan
The News, March 09, 2008

Here moves in honoured glory a Pakistani lawyer known but to God.

Today, March 9, is the first anniversary of the initial assault on the judiciary by General Pervez Musharraf in 2007--a tumultuous year for Pakistan. Much to everyone's surprise, this brazen attack on the judiciary gave rise to a most unprecedented movement by the lawyers for the independence of the judiciary. Lawyers poured out into the streets in protest against the arbitrary and illegal removal and detention of the Chief Justice of Pakistan, Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, and, despite the odds stacked against them, remain determined to continue their struggle even in the wake of the second more brutal attack on the judiciary on Nov 3, 2007.

While commemorating the day when the Chief Justice of Pakistan did the country proud by standing up to a military dictator, we must honour the valiant five – Munir Malik, Tariq Mehmood, Aitzaz Ahsan, Ali Ahmad Kurd and Hamid Khan – who emerged as leaders in this crisis and have earned the respect and admiration of the nation for their indefatigable zeal and commitment to the movement. From amongst these, Munir Malik, the erstwhile president of the Supreme Court Bar Association, deserves the highest accolade for almost single-handedly galvanizing Bar Associations around the country into action.

While the leaders of the movement have become living legends, the sacrifices of those countless lawyers and judges who stood by the Chief Justice of Pakistan like a rock and sacrificed as much as the leaders, if not more, have been relegated to the footnotes of history. Does anyone remember Khurshid Ahmed, a 32-year-old civil judge posted at Bahawalpur, who quietly tendered his resignation within a week of the ouster of the chief justice, and in doing so became the first person to make a personal sacrifice for the independence of the judiciary? Has anyone wondered how he has managed to cope with his personal and professional life in the aftermath of his bold and admirable decision to relinquish his judicial post?

Although Khurshid was the first, he was not the only one to express unequivocal solidarity with the cause of an independent judiciary. In the course of the last one year, countless lawyers and several judges stepped forward, at considerable personal cost, to fight for this cause. While some resigned from public offices as a mark of protest, there were many others who actually carried their protest onto the streets. Certainly, none of them were trained to endure the physical hardship of long arduous marches in inclement weather, arbitrary imprisonments or police beatings and teargas, or for that matter the ensuing financial hardship. Only a small number of these lawyers had the strength to carry the inevitable financial burden. A large number of them were junior, subsistence lawyers who depended upon the daily court proceedings to earn a living. Many of them belonged to the smaller districts where the opportunity to work was in any event limited and several were supporting families who depended upon them for their livelihood.

Even more than the leaders, we must honour and salute these nameless thousands because they are the true heroes and the beacons of the lawyers' movement. Without them, it would not have been possible to sustain the struggle or to mount the pressure on the government and the political parties. By the sheer force of their conviction, these lawyers and judges have emerged as the new guardians of the rule of law in Pakistan. Any victories that the lawyers' movement has had to date, or may have in the future, are rightfully theirs to claim and any accolades that may be heaped on the lawyers are attributable only to them.

Acknowledging the tremendous contributions of these lawyers and judges, although necessary, is not sufficient. It is equally, if not more, important to take appropriate measures to compensate the lawyers and judges at least for the financial loss they have suffered on account of the movement. This is necessary not just as recognition of the past, but also as an investment for the future, so that the younger lawyers and judges have confidence and support in performing their newly assumed activist role as guardians of the rule of law.

I had felt the need for such a financial safety net as early as April last year while watching a television interview being given by Khurshid after his resignation from the judiciary. He had no idea what he was going to do and the Bar Associations had nothing to offer him other than accolades. The following day, I proposed to my friend, Sahibzada Anwar Hamid, then vice-president of the Supreme Court Bar Association, and others present in his office, that the SCBA should establish a trust to support the struggling lawyers and judges. At that time, however, the SCBA was fully occupied in organizing and orchestrating the lawyers' movement throughout the country and was, therefore, not able to take the idea forward. , However, when the emergency was imposed and the situation of the lawyers and judges who had already been out of work for more than six months deteriorated even further as they were hauled into jails on spurious charges, it was no longer possible to ignore their plight.

I revived the idea of the trust fund with the help of some friends and reached out to Justice Wajihuddin Ahmed who gave life to the concept by having a resolution passed by the Karachi Bar Association. An account was set up with the support of the legal community and money has started filtering into the account from diverse sources. The proposed Trust Fund is, however, still in the process of being established. The exigencies of time and need dictate that disbursements be made before the eligibility and disbursement criteria are formally adopted. The importance of establishing the Trust Fund and adopting the criteria, however, cannot be overemphasised for upholding the credibility of the mechanism and for maintaining the confidence of lawyers and judges. Justice Wajihuddin has now finalised the Trust Deed and developed fair, objective and transparent criteria for the determination of need and the distribution of funds to affected lawyers and judges.

This will certainly give a further boost to the movement whose spirit has not sagged despite the passage of one year. It is the nameless lawyers that I have trekked along with in this arduous journey that remain determined to fight even when the resolve of the leaders has sometimes waned--as on the issue of boycott of courts discussed at the All-Pakistan Lawyers Convention held in Islamabad recently. And, it is their undiminished defiance that gives me hope of a favourable outcome of this movement. Years ago, when I was running for the post of secretary of the Government College Union, a voter had stumped me by asking: "If elected, would you lead the masses or would you be led by them?" I had not grasped the profundity of the question--until now. Looking at the lawyers' movement, it seems to me that this is not a movement being led just by leaders; in fact, the leaders are being led by the lawyers!

The powers-that-be that have not factored these countless, nameless lawyers in the equation and expect the status quo to be maintained, need to reassess the situation. This movement is being led by persons of unquestionable integrity who cannot be bought and being followed by men and women of unwavering resolve who cannot be scared into submission. Khurshid and countless others who remain unknown made their sacrifices when they had nothing but hope to fall back on. To honour and perpetuate their example and to celebrate their legacy, others of their kind must be more fully supported through established mechanisms such as the proposed Trust Fund. Paying only tributes to lawyers is simply not enough.

The writer, a lawyer based in Islamabad, is a former chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan. Email: thassan@ijurist.org


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