Saturday, February 6

Lawyers refusing to be lawyers

The right to legal representation is a cornerstone of every civilised society. For a legal association to refuse to support an accused is nothing but a breakdown in that country’s civilisation and basic humanity. In other words, the country’s pretensions to be civilised and defend rights is frankly in the toilet. This was brought home to me when i read this story:

Islamabad (AsiaNews) - Because of the threats posed by the powerful Lahore Bar Association – an umbrella organization of city lawyers - no Christian or Muslim lawyer is ready to take on the defence in the murder of 12 year-old Shazia Bashir, it was reported yesterday by The Pakistani Christian association that deals with legal assistance.  

The girl, of Christian faith, died on Jan. 23 as a result of violence - even sexual – at the hands of her employer, a wealthy and powerful Muslim lawyer in Lahore. The alleged culprit, Chaudhry Mohammad Naeem, is a former president of the Lahore High Court Bar Association. The girl, just 12 years old, had worked as a maid in the home of Naeem in the last six months.

Now you can draw what conclusions you may from this story. But here are some more examples before you do.

1. This was the legal representation situation with respect to trying Kasab, the sole surviving member of the Pakistani terrorist team which attacked Mumbai. I quote:

The news of providing state legal aid to Mohammed Ajmal Kasab, the sole surviving gunman in the terrorist attacks in Mumbai, has stirred profound consternation throughout India. Shiv Sena honcho Bal Thackeray thundered that no trial for Kasab is necessary, that the television news clippings are evidence enough, and that he should be hanged in full public view at the Gateway of India opposite the Taj Palace, which was one of the attack sites.

Thackeray found support from an unexpected quarter, with All-India Milli Council president Iqbal Mohiudeen invoking the shariah: “An eye for an eye, a limb for a limb, and a life for a life.”

The homes and properties belonging to three Mumbai-based lawyers who volunteered to appear for Kasab have been vandalized. A Parsi lawyer was even castigated collectively by his own community through the Bombay Parsi Panchayat.

2. There were terror blasts in Varanasi, Faziabad and Lucknow in the court premises. I quote:

After the terror blasts on 23rd November on court premises in Varanasi, Faizabad and Lucknow in which 15 people, four of them lawyers, were killed and over 80 injured, some bar associations had taken an unprecedented decision not to provide legal assistance to the accused in the blast cases.

The move was condemned as it was against natural justice.

It has to be pointed out that in both these cases in India, the lawyers have been appointed to defend the accused. But the fact that some are denying legal assistance to the accused is a shameful situation. This is directly going against the fundamental rights of all citizens of both countries. Despite the fact that the accused committed horrible crimes, they are presumed to be innocent till found guilty. So to exhibit some kind of weird protest against terrorism or religious participation is criminal. What next? Teachers refusing to teach because the pupil is from a different religion? Doctors refusing to treat patients because they are from another religion? Or how about architects refusing to build houses because the requester is from another religion?

These people are professionals and are supposed to uphold their professional standards. By refusing to do so, they are knuckling under total obscurantists and blithering idiots who are frankly uncivilised. Totally not cricket.

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