Monday, November 15, 2010

ARDESHIR COWASJEE ARTICES : Looking to the future

On a weekly basis one reads about members of the black-coated brigade, the erstwhile heroes of the nation whose movement galvanised what is known as ‘civil society’ as never before. Sadly, many members seem to have fallen by the wayside (Dawn, editorial, June 24).

It is demoralising to read of their escapades (“a growing predilection for unruly behaviour”) — for instance, the slapping of a judge by a lawyer, beating up a former federal minister, physically attacking policemen, ransacking offices, and allegations against the ethical practices of lawyers one of whom is a member (but should not be) of this pathetic government. All this goes some way to bring the profession into disrepute and indicates that something needs to be done to alleviate the downward trend.

The Pakistan Bar Council did try. In 2005 it filed Constitutional Petition No.9/05 against the federation, the provinces and the Higher Education Commission praying that the standards of legal education be improved and that the mushroom growth of law colleges be curbed. It called for the implementation of ‘The Affiliation of Law Colleges Rules’ framed by the Pakistan Bar Council to be implemented in letter and spirit.

The Supreme Court heard the petitioners, the federation, the provinces and various universities, all of which supported the petition. In a highly reasoned judgment Justice Tassaduq Hussain Jillani, sitting with Justices Nasir ul Mulk and Syed Jamshed Ali, stated: “The twin objectives of the dispensation of justice and enforcement of fundamental rights enshrined in the constitution cannot be achieved without a strong and conscientious judiciary and independent and competent bar” (PLD 2007 SC 394).

This is a judgment that should be read and digested by every single lawyer of the land and of course by any law student aspiring to the bar.

Inter alia, the court constituted a committee to be headed by former Supreme Court Justice Nasir Aslam Zahid “for improving and updating the syllabus that is currently being followed by our local universities”. It was to submit its report within six months.

Due to supervening events during that troublesome year when President Pervez Musharraf in a moment of madness took on the chief justice of Pakistan and truly made a mess of things the judgment was ‘Dogarised’. It has not yet been implemented despite last year’s restoration of the chief justice and his non-PCO judges.

Pakistan has three full-time universities that offer full-time legal education — Hamdard of Karachi, LUMS in Lahore and the Peshawar University. Other universities and colleges only offer evening courses, mainly for a brand of students not interested in practising law but wishing simply to obtain an LLB degree to improve their chances of promotion in the organisations in which they are currently employed.

The curriculum as adopted is spread over three years and comprises over 40 courses. If, each day of the year is utilised to teach these courses each course would be given roughly 25 days of teaching time. Oxford and Cambridge prescribe 13 courses over three years, which works out to 85 days of teaching for each course — the bedrock for a competent bar. Thus it is highly unlikely that our law students are able to take much advantage of whatever they are taught. They are overburdened given the time allotted, so how can we expect competence and deep knowledge?

The Pakistan Bar Council allegedly has the habit of willy-nilly enrolling any person with an LLB. That they are trying to improve the university standards is a good start. As a regulatory body they must enrol advocates against a proper threshold as opposed to appeasing the electorate. This would benefit the judiciary and even the economy, and for sure the country. Chief Justice of Pakistan Iftikhar Chaudhry has taken the lead in 2009 by developing and implementing the national judicial policy which envisages, inter alia, important changes so as to improve the judicial system. The development of mediation as an alternative to dispute resolution to reduce the propensity for litigation and thus the overloading of the system was one of the positive measures taken. The Karachi Centre for Dispute Resolution was itself sanctioned by the Sindh High Court as a means to implement the chief justice’s policy. Lahore is also establishing a centre.

All the above could be highly beneficial for the general development of the legal system and the judiciary as a whole, but as clarified by the Supreme Court in PLD 2007 SC 394 it cannot be sustained without a competent and cooperative legal profession — the need of the hour.

Hopefully, the Supreme Court will reactivate the committee constituted by the Supreme Court in 2007, headed by Nasir Aslam Zahid, and perhaps the young, industrious and forward-thinking Justice Mansoor Ali Shah of the Lahore High Court who as an advocate in 2007 was appointed to the committee could be reappointed to continue his involvement along with his new responsibilities.

In this dysfunctional state which to the outside world is perceived to be ‘failing’, the judiciary would seem to be the sole institution (barring of course the army) to which the nation can now look up to with respect and hope. It would therefore be in the fitness of things, and give a boost to a depressed nation, were the Supreme Court to resurrect the committee and allow it to update the legal education curriculum and bring it into line with internationally accepted standards.

No comments:

Post a Comment