Bar Elections: Time for Reflection

Bar Elections: Time for Reflection
The recent spate of bar elections, whether in the Supreme Court Bar, Lahore Bar or Lahore High Court Bar elections has brought to surface a worrying trend that raises several questions over the quest for a strong and independent bar.

While there were many things that were historic and encouraging in the most recent elections of the Lahore High Court Bar Association including arrangement for separate entry for women & historic win by female candidates, what is increasingly alarming is the trend among national political parties taking ownership of bar candidates. This was seen unfolding in Lahore Bar and Supreme Court Bar elections earlier and now in LHCBA elections as well.

Not only are political parties claiming victories at behest of bar candidates but also that bars are openly associating with national political parties and not limiting themselves to politics related to their own profession.

If their candidates win, they tweet conflating it as if it is their party's victory and the increased polarisation is penetrating into bar and among lawyers giving rise to perception that so and so is xyz party's bar panel candidate etc. Previously, bar elections had in-house de facto groupings in shape of ‘professional group’ and ‘independent group’ but lately, even these are seen to be replaced by national political parties in terms of candidates affiliation and backing. How can lawyers and bars be independent and stand with rule of law if they become supported by political parties?

The independence of bars and its strength lies (i) in its detachment from political parties and persons and (ii) in standing with rule of law & principles.

It is one thing for lawyers to have personal political affiliations but quiet another for political parties to back bar candidates. Although it may be inherent in the nature of bars to be political, but they must not be seen to be partisan, which is why, personal political affiliations is different, but political parties having affiliations with bar candidates gives rise to perception of partisan bias. Later judges are appointed from amongst members of bar and it can potentially lead to allegations of bench fixing.

Being political is one thing but this gives rise to perception of partisanship that can impact the notion and quest for independence of the bar. There is a thin line between ‘being political’ and ‘being partisan’ but it is important that this difference be understood. Our bars cannot be allowed to become arms of political parties. Essentially, the question being raises here is of how to maintain the independence of the bar in order for it not to be rendered a tool in the hands of outside political actors?

This needs reflection, discourse and course correction within the legal community as well as within the media. Bars need to be independent however, this narrative of ‘national political party backed candidate’ is prima facie giving rise to perception of biased bar. Keeping national political parties support and reference to it out during and in relation to bar elections, therefore, should be of utmost priority, if not a duty, in our quest for an independent and strong bar. At the very least, it needs to be condemned and resisted.

Legal community is therefore, strongly urged to take active steps to consciously avoid this muddling because it is not a healthy tradition to set at all. Political parties must not be allowed to ‘back’ bar candidates and candidates for bar elections must distance themselves from any political reference, support or nexus.


The writer is diversity and Inclusion advocate and founder of Women in Law Initiative Pakistan.