I’ll save you all the bother of thinking of the joke.

Lawyer: One in four lawyers in under house arrest in Pakistan. 

Everyone else: Why haven’t they arrested the other three-quarters?

Without the rule of law there is tyranny or anarchy.  Without lawyers there can be no rule of law.  Lawyers are essential to the rule of law not only because they provide the impartial judges necessary to rule on what the law is but also because the rule of law includes a requirement that natural justice be observed – that there be fair trials, with access to proper representation.  The rule of law also requires laws to be prospective, open and clear, and relatively stable.  Lawyers are needed to advise everyone else on what the law is.

At the moment almost every aspect of the rule of law is being challenged in Pakistan.  The Constitution has been suspended and the Chief Justice, Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry,removed and arrested.  Mr Chaudhry had previously been removed by President Musharraf but was reinstated following a decision of the Pakistan Supreme Court in July 2007.  Now one in four lawyers is believed to have been placed under house arrest.  More than 300 lawyers have been arrested and imprisoned in Lahore for “anti-terrorist” offences.  All members of the judiciary have been asked to sign an oath of allegiance to the new constitution, but apparently 80% have refused.

Andrew Holroyd, the president of the Law Society, said this in the Times today:

“Events in Pakistan must be of concern to everyone who supports the rule of law, and they underline once again that the rule of law is nothing without lawyers…I can think of no starker demonstration of this commitment to the law than the extraordinary courage, fortitude and bravery of the lawyers we see in Pakistan. They have rightly demonstrated against the government measures. The suspension of the Constitution, the denial of fundamental rights and repeated attacks on the judiciary removes any semblance of a just and civilised society.”

See this article in the Guardian for an interesting comment in the sea-change there has very recently been in the perception of lawyers in Pakistan:

“Yet the bar and judiciary have a mixed record in Pakistan.

The nation’s revered founder, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, was one of the subcontinent’s most famed lawyers. But Pakistan’s top judges have often acted cravenly, endorsing military takeovers, and the legal system is widely perceived as corrupt and dysfunctional, and its lawyers untrustworthy.

Chaudhry’s resolve in standing up to the military-led establishment has marked a sea change in public notions of how the judiciary could act as a check on the executive and defend citizens’ rights.

“The past year has seen a revolution in Pakistan as the judiciary fought successfully for its independence and held the government to account,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “

The Law Society (representing British solicitors), the Association of Muslim Lawyers, and the Bar Council (representing barristers) are jointly making representations to President Musharraf.

From the Law Society web-site:

Solicitors are encouraged to attend a demonstration opposite 10 Downing St on Saturday 10 November from 14:00 – 16:00. The demonstration, organised by the Campaign Against Martial Law in Pakistan aims to:

  • stop martial rule in Pakistan
  • demand that all political prisoners are released now
  • demand that the judiciary is restored
  • demand that democracy is restored

The protest will be led by Hina Jilani, Special Representative of the UN Secretary General on Human Rights Defenders. Jemima Khan and others will be present at the demonstration. Phone 07939 782872 for more details.

Sign the Law Society’s petition here.