Breaking the law

Multan hearing turns ugly between bar and bench

Breaking the law
Around 10am on July 24, Lahore High Court Bar Association Multan president Sher Zaman Qureshi and lawyer Syed Qaiser Abbas Kazmi were accused of misbehaving with Justice Muhammad Qasim Khan. Justice Khan was hearing the case of a mosque demolished by the Multan Development Authority for the Metro Bus Route.

When the hearing started, Justice Khan was offended by the lack of discipline in the lawyers. “He got upset at all the lawyers standing at the rostrum at the same time,” says Mohammed Aslam, a Multan High Court lawyer. “Justice Qasim Khan was also offended by the fact that the lawyers weren’t taking their turn to speak and [he] repeatedly told them not to speak over one another.”

Sher Zaman told Justice Khan that if the lawyers were being asked to leave and were insulted, he could not remain there either. He went on to leave the courtroom and the lawyers followed suit. They subsequently vandalised the court premises and damaged the nameplate at Justice Khan’s chambers.

By 2pm Chief Justice Mansoor Ali ordered the closure of the Multan Bench.

“The next day we convened a joint session of the District Bar and High Court bar, and we were assigned to draft a petition against the closure of the bench for the Supreme Court against Justice Mansoor Ali Shah under Articles 209 and 6 for violation of the Constitution,” says Ahmed Nadeem, another Multan High Court lawyer. Justice Mansoor Ali Shah then issued contempt notice to the president of the Multan high court bar association.

Following this, 24 bar associations of South Punjab, Lahore and the Supreme Court passed resolutions that said that Sher Zaman Qureshi should not appear in the Lahore High Court. “He had a case pending in the Supreme Court and only the bar council has the power to proceed against the president—the CJ has no authority to act against him,” says lawyer Ahmed Nadeem.

On Monday, August 21, when Sher Zaman Qureshi didn’t show up for the fourth summons in the LHC, a bench comprising Chief Justice Mansoor Ali Shah, Justice Anwarul Haq, Justice Mazahar Ali Akbar Naqvi, Justice Ameer Bhatti and Justice Shams Mahmood Mirza issued non-bailable arrest warrants for him. Lawyers supporting Qureshi then threw stones at law-enforcement officials, broke into an iron grille gate inside the court, and marched towards Justice Shah’s courtroom chanting slogans against him. They were stalled by anti-riot police using tear gas and water cannons. The clash ensured that Mall Road was choked throughout the day. At least 10 people, including seven lawyers, were injured and taken to Mayo Hospital.

“Minimum force was applied. The tear gas and water cannon only began once the gate was broken. If it hadn’t been used, then the lawyers would’ve entered the Chief Justice court,” says Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah. “You can imagine what could’ve happened after that.” Citing the history of lawyers’ movements, Sanaullah says action against lawyers is always a risk for the government.

“Whenever action has been taken against lawyers there has been a backlash. Now the executive wing of the state has been reduced to such an extent that even the smallest of groups that can hire a lawyer can leave the administration helpless,” he maintains. “Apparently the rule of law is only for democratically elected leaders. Had the verdict been against an MNA or MPA the same people would’ve been rallying to throw them into jail as soon as possible.”

According to lawyer and journalist Sajid Khan, the confrontation with the police was inevitable. But it turned nasty when Lahore High Court Bar General Secretary Amir Saeed Raan was injured. The police were injured too, he added. “The lawyers battered the DSP on duty… We lawyers consider ourselves a pressure group, which we are,” he adds. “And we feel that since we’re lawyers, the law doesn’t apply to us.”

Other observers, such as Advocate Shoaib Saleem, who was inside the court that day, described it as a “clash of egos”. “The bench closure was unconstitutional, because it was a fight between two individuals. The bench wasn’t created for lawyers or judges, it was created for the public at large. Suspending the right of the masses’ cases to be heard was unconstitutional,” says Saleem. “Legally there is no excuse for anyone to not show up once summoned by a constitutional court.” He added a point about the relations between the bar and bench, saying that the CJP has both judicial and executive powers in this regard.