Elections and Bar reform.

Byline: Saad Rasool

Each year, during the months of January-February, Bar associations across Pakistan hold elections to choose their office-bearers.

During this time, court surroundings and chambers are decked up with life-size (and larger) photo-posters of the candidates vying for office of the respective Bar associations. At each turn of the Court premises, each hallway, each Bar-room, there is a junta of individuals 'humbly' requesting other lawyers to vote for the candidate of their choice.

The candidates (who are easy to spot, given the large posse of younger lawyers following them) are seen distributing pocket-cards and coat-badges, along with a reiteration of long-forgotten promises of Bar reform, of humility, and a new sense of purpose in Bar leadership. Then there are the periodic endorsement parties, full of self-congratulatory rhetoric, frequently delving upon the 'qurbanis' rendered in the fabled Lawyer's Movement. And, not to mention, the daily frenzy of hundreds of unsolicited text messages, endorsing one candidate or another.

Then suddenly, once the elections have concluded and the customary follow-up celebrations have been completed, everyone goes back to regular life. The posters, plastered all across the court premises, slowly start to rot in a clutter. And the elected officers become local power brokers, (allegedly) reaping personal benefits from their political success.

But year after year, this election frenzy culminates in no real reform of the Bar culture. There is no tangible move towards enforcing ethical standards in Bar practices. No palpable push towards continuing education for lawyers. No introduction of stringent standards for the enrolment of Advocates. No guidance or career-counselling for young Advocates. No coherent policy towards judicial elevation. No review of the strike culture.

And thus, as we embrace a new season of Bar elections, it is important to critically review our Bar culture and practices, in order to reform this 'institution' of advocacy. With a fierce belief that reform of the Bar is inextricably related to reforming the project of justice in Pakistan.

Speaking as a lawyer: let us have the humility and courage to accept that we-the lawyers as individuals, and Bar Associations as institutions-have contributed to the deprecation of our system of justice. Let us start with recognising the truth that lawyers (even more so than the judiciary!) have the loudest say in determining what cases are...

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