In a nation where the rule of law is already fragile on many levels, police officials, judges, litigants and witnesses say they have become increasingly fearful of marauding lawyers in their trademark black pants, coats and ties.
“If police officers don’t submit to their pressure, they abuse and beat them,” said Sadaqat Ullah, the 28-year-old police investigator who alleged that a group of lawyers pummeled him in late September because he refused to share a confidential hospital report with an attorney in the original assault case. “They behave like gangsters.”
Lawyers at the site that day say that only harsh words were exchanged; the provincial bar council is investigating. But at least 15 episodes of “hooliganism” and “high-handedness,” as the media and victims describe them, by lawyers have been reported this year, undermining the heroic reputation they gained from their role in a constitutional standoff that began five years ago.
In a country where militants rule large swaths of territory, corruption is endemic and people are “disappeared” by security agencies, the “black coats” emerged as defenders of the rule of law after then-President Pervez Musharraf suspended the constitution, arrested political foes and fired judges. The world beheld incongruous images of men in suits braving police lines and tear gas in the capital, Islamabad, to demand the reinstatement of the chief justice of the Supreme Court, Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry.
Lahore was the epicenter of the 2007-09 “Black Revolution,” as it is known. In one raid on the High Court Bar Association, police arrested more than 800 lawyers involved in the movement for judicial independence.
In the end, Musharraf lost power and Chaudhry went on to become a controversial one-man powerhouse who regularly calls to account top elected leaders and army generals for alleged abuses of power. But since those heady days, critics say, lawyers’ arrogance and aggressiveness have wiped out any goodwill they had generated.
“Storm troopers,” Ayaz Amir, a politician and commentator, called them in a June column. “Time was when lawyers did most of their arguing with their tongues. Now they seem to do a better job with their fists.”
“It’s true. We should mend our behavior,” Zulfiqar Ali, president of the Lahore Bar Association, said sheepishly in an interview. He attributed the violence to a lack of emphasis on ethics and courtroom conduct in law schools.
He said the association, which has about 20,000 members, has initiated weekly lectures aimed at improving decorum and overall competence.