By Hafiz Muhammad Azeem
Each year, the initial days of January are fixed for the local Bar Associations’ elections. More or less: slogans and banners, heated campaigns and fervor rallies, presentations of motos and group meetings, a lot of expenses, usage, and wastage of money, politics, and hypocrisy, and lastly the indispensable item ‘food’— a lot of food— are essential elements of Bar’s elections. There are some positive and negative aspects with regard to the Bar Associations’ elections.
Before I discuss these aspects, it is pertinent to briefly introduce Bar Councils and Bar Associations. The Legal Practitioner and Bar Council Act, 1973 deals with it. The Bar Councils are autonomous elected institutions comprising of legal practitioners of respective Bars. Amongst them, the Pakistan Bar Council is the supreme body; and then comes the provincial Bar councils of each province that are inferior to it.
Similarly, the Supreme Court Bar Association of Pakistan is the supreme elected body of the advocates of the Supreme Court. Next in number are the respective provincial Bar Associations. The last in number—although inferior to all, but the most influential body of legal practitioners are the local or district Bar Associations.
The District Bar Associations (DBA) are the governing bodies of legal practitioners at the district level. The main powers and functions are, held and controlled, by the president, vice president, and secretary— the rest, although elected simultaneously during main elections, yet devoid of any functions and powers, e.g. finance secretary, library secretary, and executive members, etc. However, ironically each is happy to be elected.
There are many positive and constructive aspects of DBA’s elections. Foremost is the protection of the rights and welfare of legal practitioners, through the provision of essential facilities of life to them at district bars, such as neat and clean environment, pure water, updated library, walkable roads and streets for pedestrians in and around the courts’ premises. It also includes registration of legal practitioners under the Legal Practitioner and Bar Council rules, 1976. Moreover, the collection and disbursement of funds, incomes from domestic business in bars—and above all the construction of offices for upcoming lawyers are the chief functions of DBA. In other words, each local bar has its own local issues and problems; and these associations are being given the mandate to solve them.
Nonetheless, the DBA’s elections also have some adverse aspects, that need to be highlighted. The top of them is the misuse of money. At my DBA (City Sheikhupura), an estimated more than two crore Rupees, over merely fifteen to sixteen hundred lawyers, is the normal expense of elections. Sometimes, the figure crossed three crore Rupees—an average of twenty thousand Rupees per lawyer. Although claimed as the most educated and intellectual class of society, the fifteen hundred lawyers eat in the shape of food half of this figure at lunches and dinners arranged for them. And the rest of half as a bribe to vote. (None of a single penny is used on library and on books— everything is just on food and bribery)
Here, one must raise his eyebrow on the question: how can one earn back this huge sum of money in a short span of one year from cases? Behold, they earn it. The evil gives birth to evil. And it is absurd to think, one is so generous onto lawyers to spend three crores merely on their food and leisure. Obviously, one spends to earn. And how they earn; it is a mystery. An unsolvable mystery.
Moreover, the hypocrisy—that never suits to a highly qualified person—is another deplorable aspect of DBA’s elections. One who promises to vote seldom votes as per his promise. This is a routine matter in elections. The groups (it mostly comprises on one senior most lawyer as a head and juniors ones as a herd) often bargain at elections’ night. They trade their votes in considerations of votes for their respective candidates. This is known as the surprise factor, and the night is called a Moon-night.
Furthermore, ‘the true spirit of democracy’ and ‘continuance of democracy’ are practically alien words for DBA’s elections.
Each vote is influenced; the more appropriate word is undue-influenced vote. A young lawyer has no right to discretion, to choose, to think, to argue, to present his issues; in fact, he has no place in choosing, thinking, arguing, except to put the stamp and make a picture of it in his mobile phone as evidence of his loyalty to his senior. Otherwise, your loyalty is at stake. It means your future (one may disagree, yet it is true).
Another illegality that is frequently being ignored at DBA’s elections by the Provincial Bar Councils is the votes of non-practitioners. Legally, only the practicing advocate, who is not an employee of any other organization, is entitled to vote. Yet what has been happening is adverse to this rule. Many non-practitioners— almost half of the total of each local bar— are employees or are having their own businesses, despite that they vote in each year’s elections. This is where the bribe-money is used, to fetch the voter. Food and expenses gifts through their known sources are sent to them. And on the election day, pick and drop services from the candidates is provided to each one of them. One must search ‘democracy’ here in this process; one will surely fail to find it here.
In consequence, one finds adverse to one’s expectations from a highly qualified class of society. As recently, the world has already witnessed the despicable face of lawyers at Punjab Cardiology’s unfortunate incident. The reason is simple and clear; one who does not have three crores extra to spend with courage that if one loses, one will not have any effect of it. Yet truth is that a normal legal practitioner at local level Bar would scarcely have such huge extra sum to bet. Thus, good practitioners left to think about being elected and work for the welfare of lawyers. Their space is then filled by mafias; because there is nothing difficult to pass an LL.B. degree and become a lawyer.
It is high time that we lawyers let not the grass grow anymore under our feet, and take strict action in order to safeguard our own future and rights. Let us not be a herd anymore. Let us impede the entrance of mafia at our home. Let us not be used and misused anymore. Because these elections and fairly elected bodies are the only possible way to make things right; then let us first undo our own elections’ wrongs. Let us have a true, free, and democratic elections at our local Bars. Arouse from slumber, fellow lawyers.
The writer is an advocate of the High Court and writes on various topics. He can be reached at Khokhar.firstname.lastname@example.org. His articles can be accessed on hmazeem.blospot.com. He holds an LL.M. from the Punjab University and teaches law.