There’s a fairly simple, one-dimensional perception with regard to the legal system of Pakistan and Pakistani lawyers in general. The “system” is broken, they say, and the individuals who have been entrusted with the power of enforcing justice are actually the ones who are cultivating the chaos that bogs down the aisles of equity for litigants. In spite of being a law student, I had no actual experience in the practical field, and so naturally enough, I subscribed to this very same stereotypical perspective for quite some time. However, it was only when I decided to spice things up and take up a position as an associate to one of my senior advocates that I managed to gain an in-depth view into the true inner mechanisms of the legal life.
My perfectly pointed leather shoes were neatly laced. My shirt was ironed to a gentle crisp. As I donned the notorious combination of the white shirt and black tie that is synonymous with the legal profession, my heart became filled with an unending ambition for the mysterious journey that lay ahead. I then ordered my taxi, and after a 20-minute ride with a cab driver of a fairly amiable character, I had reached my office. It was roughly a 3-minute walk away from the Lahore High Court, but the surrounding sights were what initially drew my unaverred attention.
I noticed that upon reaching the Mazang area, the whole atmosphere drastically changed. It seemed as if the grim atmosphere encapsulated with Charles Dickens’ novel “Bleak House” had somehow come to life. The streets were overflowing with drug infused vagabonds who rummaged through rubbish bins and scampered along the footpaths. Some lay down the ground – lifeless, staring aimlessly at the sky with pulsating red streaks that stained the dirty white crescents in their bulging eyes. A whole host of them were lined up across the length of the Metro Bus Station, where a man was also spotted injecting a syringe into his vein, before the blood began to slowly drip out and form a small puddle below his thighs.
It took me a moment to get past those sights, but once I managed to do that, I was introduced to my new legal team, and they were quick in showing me the tricks of the trade as we began work together.
Our first trip was to the Civil Court, in the LDA Complex, which from the outside was jam-packed with rows upon rows of parked motorcycles, and the building itself was throbbing with hosts of black ties and white shirts. I noticed that the majority of lawyers within the vicinity used motorcycles as their preferred means of conveyance, mainly due to the sheer convenience of being able to slick past the hordes of cars like a hot knife through butter. What I also noticed was how traffic wardens were quite reluctant to stop individuals wearing an advocate’s uniform as I witnessed with my very eyes how one lawyer rode his bike on the wrong side of the road without a helmet, right past a traffic warden who stared straight him without doing a thing.
From the inside of the Civil Court, the first thing that drew my attention was the disorderly appearance of it. The staircases were peppered with murky red stains of paan. The walls were littered with political posters for the upcoming elections – some were half torn while others were hastily pasted on top of the older ones in such a way that they covered the entire walls. The elevators were always overflowing with people who reeked with sweat and clouded me in a cocoon of claustrophobia. The different rooms of the courts were split apart and distinguished only by cardboard partitions, while half-filled plastic bottles of soft drinks were used as door stoppers.
The corridors were crowded with litigants and lawyers alike and in the office of the record’s keeper, I found the court clerks discussing the game “Candy Crush” and voicing their ambitions on beating the games’ world record. They sat on broken, battered chairs, encompassed by tattering walls as the ceiling fan above them could barely summoned the strength to spin another revolution.
The bar rooms, too, had no shortage of visitors and one could hear cases being discuss taciturnly while at another end, a whole horde of advocates could be seen juggling abuses on their cell phones while attempting to stow away the day’s stress with a dying cigarette. While I was taking a moments’ rest near the entry, I was slowly greeted by a number of attorneys who masked their frosty intentions beneath their warm handshakes and welcoming sentiments – and then proceeded to hand me their cards, and requested that I vote for them in the upcoming election.
The conditions within the court rooms themselves weren’t particularly uplifting either. Deciding a verdict on a dispute about an auction, the civil judge who I saw in action seemed like a clean-shaven, competent and unbiased individual who was trying to helm the matter to a conclusion, but the defending lawyer let loose a tirade (which more resembled a tantrum) in his defence. After eventually acceding to the verdict and then superciliously thanking the judge, the advocate turned his head away before muttering some foul language under his breath, directed right at the judge.
Back at the office, each one of the rooms in the chamber was overflowing with piles upon piles of paperwork, which initially seemed like quite an intimidating sight. Amongst the mostly mundane cases regarding non-payments of pension, there were a couple of eye-catching cases such as one regarding the struggle for supremacy within a Church which revolved around a whole convoluted attempt at ousting the head priest of a church in favour of a new head. I listened closely as a pastor sat right opposite my desk and took out a very slender, gold coloured capsule from his satchel from which he pulled out his spectacles and then began to voice his grievances – one by one about the injustice that had been inflicted upon him.
After having our lunch, we moved on to the District Court Kacheri where I was introduced to a whole new level of injustice. I came across a number of individuals who personified the problems that plague the Pakistani justice system. There were impoverished citizens, emaciated from every angle that the eye can see, who were gleaming with sweat and simply screaming out for some succour. A child lay naked on the second floor of the Kacheri, with its darkened skin (that was probably caused by its unending hours of labour) being covered by sheets made from withering pieces of cardboard. Who were those individuals? What were they even doing there? I have no clue. One thing that I do know however is that it will be quite some time before I will be able to forget the image of that child lost within the remains of that dilapidating building.
The very next day, we visited the Lahore High Court on what was to be its final day before closing for the annual holidays. Unsurprisingly the High Court, too, was overpopulated with a surplus of lawyers. This was all-the-more emphasised on when we entered into the court room for our hearing.
We barely managed to squeeze through the crowd, with our shoulders being crushed under the deadlock. It was very similar to the situation outside the court – in how we narrowly inched past cars on our motorbike, and I’ve never been closer to being sandwiched between a rickshaw and a van.
After being in such close proximity to so many different lawyers, I soon learned how you could distinguish a lawyer by their clothes – the material of their jackets, how well knotted their tie was, which shade of white their shirt was, whether their shoes were polished well-enough and the confidence of their gait, etc. The stratification was undeniable. Some waltzed around with hand-stitched Italian boots, and you knew that they’d be a good lawyer, or at least be affiliated with a respectable firm, since they could afford such luxuries – and their get-up was somewhat of a concealed advertisement at their projected aptitude in their profession.
Notwithstanding, after we actually managed to enter the courtroom, we soon lacked the breathing space to remain there for very long, and eventually left once the date for our case had been forwarded. The judge himself was a large man very firmly stationed in his seat, commanding each and every movement that took place within that courtroom.
I bore witness to how the lawyers argued their cases, and it is radically different from what the media has portrayed it to be. The presentation of a case was less about dramatized arguments, such as those in “Suits” or “Judge Judy”, and more similar to a civilised discussion with the usual result being that the date of the next hearing be forwarded. Truly, the backlog of cases was absolutely overwhelming. In general, I think I could conclude that being a lawyer involved more clerical work in gathering documents and files than unleashing a fury of rants such as in Al Pacino’s “And Justice for All”.
When I returned home, my pure white shirt that I had ironed to a crisp that very morning was absolutely drenched in sweat. My black trousers were coated with a whole layer of murky grey dust, and my face was beaming with a red hue after an acute dose of sunburn which I sustained after surfing through the blazing streets on the backseat of a motorbike.
All in all, I managed to garner a wide variety of insights and information from this experience which helped in answering many of the questions surrounding the standard of the legal system. Due to the fact that the majority of cases actually require clerical competence as opposed to unique arguing skills, you will find that the majority of lawyers aren’t actually literary connoisseurs or impassioned debaters, but are rather those individuals who are adept at handling paper work and can very simply get the job done.
In fact, I was acquainted with a number of individuals who began their careers as office boys who cleared dinner tables for a living and then worked their socks off to gain a law degree. Their efforts in accomplishing those feats are undeniable – but so is the difference in the standard of education which they were given.
Another area of concern was as to why the conditions of the courts weren’t improving. Despite the fact that countless presidential positions of the Lahore Bar Council change annually after the elections, the physical state of the courts themselves seemed allergic to improvement.
Before concluding this, however, one area that I believe which all advocates are not given due credit for is their undying determination and effort. There was a whole different atmosphere in a chamber when you see people of different sects and religions working together in order to compile documentation and discuss their personal opinions on a case. In addition to that, every one of those individuals was willing to withstand the unrelenting heat both inside and outside of the courts, being all-the-more intensified by their suffocating ties and heat-absorbing blazers – and for that, credit must be given.
On the final note, for all those individuals who berate lawyers with terms such as “advocates of corruption”, I would like to share with them the words of my mentor who also answered similar allegations by saying that “even corruption requires commitment”.