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Killing Quetta’s legal eagles: the aftermath of chaos

Killing Quetta’s legal eagles: the aftermath of chaos

More than 50 lawyers were killed in Quetta on Aug 8 this year as they gathered to mourn the death of the Balochistan Bar Association (BBA) president Bilal Anwar Kasi in a gun attack earlier that day. In the aftermath, 2,000 clients remain without legal representation, causing unprecedented delays in the high court and lower trial courts — both previously strained with increasing civil and criminal cases. At present, 40pc of court cases in the province are pending.

Out of 32 districts, almost 26 have no legal representatives. This implies that Quetta-based lawyers must defend clients by travelling long distances. Consequently, 13,000 cases remain pending in the district courts and around over 6,000 in the Balochistan High Court (BHC) and two circuit benches in Sibi and Turbat. Frequent strike calls allow the BHC and lower trial courts to barely function for two days a week, with certain senior lawyers over-burdened with work. With clients searching for senior lawyers to hire, it is becoming challenging for those already dealing with an overload of cases, says a BHC lawyer, adding that one senior lawyer who died in the attack was handling more than 700 cases.

However, with 11 judges, including the chief justice, there is no dearth of judges, unlike in other provinces. Furthermore, with additional district, sessions and civil judges in the subordinate and lower trial courts since August, there is access to more legal representation. But even this increase is unable to keep up with the rise in the number of civil and criminal cases that requires increasing legal expertise. “Almost all clients who lose cases in the lower courts approach the superior courts, increasing the burden,” explains Raja Rub Nawaz, a former deputy attorney general of Pakistan. It is humanely impossible for lawyers to meet growing client demands. Observing the state of the justice system, Hadi Shakeel, a former president of the BHC Bar Association, recommends that lawyers must manage their time efficiently to represent as many clients as possible. For now, this may appear as a stop-gap solution, but long-term plans such as expanding the judiciary and establishing more courts are in the interest of both lawyers and their clients.

To add, Balochistan has yet to appoint a prosecutor general (PG) — the position has remained vacant since November 2015. It is imperative that a strong prosecution service, and independent and trained police investigators are brought into the system so that cases are dealt with professionally. A former PG, Tariq Mehmood Butt, disclosed that the previous PG was removed due to political reasons. “There is no qualified prosecutor in this position,” Mr Butt tells Dawn, adding that in 2014 the Balochistan Public Service Commission conducted exams to select ten prosecutors, but none qualified. Furthermore, the monetary incentives are unattractive because all prosecutors except the additional PG in the Balochistan high court are paid on a daily basis,” he claims, adding that the prosecutor appearing in the apex court receives Rs1,500 per day for his services.

Published in Dawn December 19th, 2016

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