A majority of the legal community calls the Lawyers’ Movement “a great political success” but a “big failure” in achieving its aims of bringing in judicial reforms and rule of law. They believe there are negative effects of this Movement on the system of administration of justice. Many senior lawyers who took active part in the Movement politely declined to comment on the lessons learnt. Many believe the collective struggle ended up becoming person-specific.
“March 9 is a very important day for Pakistan. On that day, lawyers and other people came out in support of an independent judiciary,” says Chaudhry Aitzaz Ahsan, senior lawyer and politician and a leading light of the Movement.
“People put their lives at risk as they were baton-charged. They faced state aggression and unprecedented violence to press for this struggle. The whole objective of the Movement was to bring judicial independence,” adds Ahsan.
“I led the Movement but today I think the only prominent ‘achievements’ of this landmark struggle are violent lawyers and proud judges.”
Barrister Ali Zafar, former president Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA), says a positive aspect of the Movement was that it proved that the legal community was an essential pillar of the state to strengthen democracy. “However, unfortunately, it has led to indiscipline, bordering on aggressiveness in certain sections of the lawyers’ community. Immediately after the Movement, it created a sense of judicial adventurism within the judiciary where the judges started interfering in government matters and executive decisions.”
“The real aim of the struggle was to clean our house through legal and judicial reforms but, unfortunately, we failed in it miserably and instead of concentrating on legal reforms the institution adopted a political tone soon after the restoration,” adds Zafar.
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“What I have learnt from this Movement is to never become part of a struggle for state institutions because, after victory, the heads of the institutions become “pharaohs”, start political victimisation and spoil the system,” says Abid Saqi, a senior lawyer who was associated with the Movement.
“The bar and bench have both been destroyed. The independence of bar associations is also compromised,” Saqi adds.
He says it was not a people’s Movement but one that was instrumented by Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) for political purposes. “Even the seniors associated with this Movement dissociated themselves from the struggle in disappointment, as the restored judiciary adopted an authoritarian and totalitarian approach, becoming part of ruling elite.”
In the past few years, there have been a number of incidents in which young lawyers have misbehaved with judges, locked them in their rooms, damaged their offices and even slapped them for not agreeing to certain demands.
“The arrogant attitude of the restored chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry spoiled the institution. He allegedly misused his power, publicity, and imposed a judicial martial law, instead of bringing in reforms and rule of law,” says Waseem Shahabi, a Lahore-based young lawyer.
He believes that after restoration, a lenient view by the judiciary of the young lawyers’ misconduct paved the way for indiscipline. Now, a majority of young lawyers like to show power and join a group rather than improving themselves individually.”
A week ago, the Chief Justice of the Lahore High Court, Justice Mansoor Ali Shah, addressing the legal community urged the need to end their “strike culture” to bring a positive change in the judicial system.
Hamid Khan, a senior figure of the legal community and leader of the judges’ restoration Movement, does not believe the Movement failed but admits it could not achieve the desired reforms. “The lawyers, for the first time, showed unity and strength against the injustice of a dictator. Also, I believe the post-restoration judiciary is relatively better.”
“We failed to eliminate corruption from subordinate judiciary and bring institutional reforms,” adds Khan.
Qazi Muhammad Anwar, another former SCBA president and an active leader of the Movement, believes the Movement, in fact, ended with the restoration of Justice Chaudhry. “Rather than focusing on the system, the restored chief justice made politically motivated decisions.”
After his restoration, Justice iftikhar Chaudhry took dozens of politically motivated suo-motu notices and ousted nearly 110 judges of the Supreme Court and high courts who had taken oath under the Provisional Constitutional Order (PCO) under Musharraf’s state of emergency.
“The Lawyers’ Movement began with the support of the whole civil society. It was a revolution indeed. But we feel sorry about it each time we, the lawyers from all parts of the country, sit together. We feel that the justice system has declined rather than improved,” says Ali Ahmad Kurd, another popular leader of the Movement from Quetta and former SCBA president. “There have been no reforms since then and the judges have become like pharaohs.”
Zafar Ali Shah, a senior advocate and leader of PML-N, says “the immediate impact of the Movement was positive in the form of defeat of the dictator. But, in the long run, there is nothing mentionable regarding better administration of justice.”