A historic win

The Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) elections on Wednesday saw Asma Jahangir win despite the fact that her opponents had started a maligning campaign against her. Ms Jahangir secured 834 votes while her main opponent Ahmed Awais got 796 votes. She has become the first woman president of the SCBA. Ms Jahangir’s victory was celebrated all across the country. Ms Jahangir is not just a leading light of the legal fraternity, she is one of the most vocal advocates of human rights, women’s rights, minority rights, democracy and justice.

One of the reasons for those opposing Ms Jahangir in the legal fraternity is because of her criticism of the bar and bench for getting embroiled in politics. After the successful movement led by the lawyers for the restoration of the judiciary, it was expected that the lawyers would go back to practicing law and the judiciary would work towards strengthening its institution. Instead, we saw them encroaching on the space of other state institutions, especially the executive. It was in this backdrop that the core leadership of the lawyers’ movement like Ali Ahmad Kurd, Munir A Malik, Justice (retd) Tariq Mehmood, etc, correctly distanced themselves from the restored judiciary. Except for Chaudhry Aitzaz Ahsan, Ms Jahangir was supported by all the leading lights of the lawyers’ movement. Mr Ahsan’s role was dubious in these SCBA elections because he surreptitiously supported Ahmed Awais. Ms Jahangir was accused of being the PPP’s candidate even though there is no truth to such allegations.

The judiciary’s newfound assertive activism has been a cause of concern and controversy lately, especially in the NRO and the 18th Amendment cases. The SCBA’s role during this time was also criticised since former president SCBA, Qazi Anwar, openly opposed the government and sided with the judiciary instead of remaining neutral, which is what is expected of any bar association. Some sections of the legal fraternity have tried to use the judiciary to destabilise the PPP government and some of the lawyers from the bars have been accused of trying to take advantage of their closeness to the restored judiciary. This may not be the judges’ fault, but the attitude of the bar was questionable. Qazi Anwar damaged the credibility of the SCBA by being partisan even though a bar is not supposed to be an appendage of the bench.

After her victory, Ms Jahangir asserted that she would not take dictation from anyone, be it the government or the judges. It is hoped that with Ms Jahangir’s victory, the bar would re-establish its independence and keep an appropriate distance from the bench. During her tenure, it is expected that the imbalance created by her predecessor would be done away with and the dignity of the bar restored.

(my editorial in Daily Times)

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