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Lawyers against dictatorship

Link: Pakistan | Lawyers against the general | Economist.com.

I have two guaranteed ways to provoke hostile comments here. I can mention Jean Charles de Menezes or I can mention that I am a lawyer.

Many feel aggrieved that the legal profession in Britain has not done more to resist the present government's sustained assault on our liberties. That is not entirely fair. The Law Society has submitted, on behalf of the solicitors' profession, briefing papers in advance of many illiberal pieces of legislation. Such papers can be found at the Society's website. It is not the profession's fault that most Members of Parliament are more interested in advancing their careers than in protecting the interests of their constituents. Certainly, thanks to the Law Society, no MP voted for any of this trashy "cry wolf" legislation without having the chance to know exactly what he was doing.

The Blair era of the Labour regime was dominated by his chums from the "senior branch" of Britain's legal profession (the ones with the funny wigs and the quaint attitudes). I am not aware what steps the Bar Council took to save us from the worst of New Labour's legislative follies. Perhaps they too were briefing assiduously but were ignored by our Poodle Parliament. I hope so.

Apart from some gallant efforts by the Judicial Committee of the House of Lords (our highest court, staffed by judges who embarked on their careers while the present Prime Minister was still in nappies) it sometimes seems that the third branch of the legal profession (the judges) has not been doing its bit. With so little constitutional traction, perhaps it is not surprising they have been steadily pushed backwards.

Whatever I may say here as to the efforts of our legal professions, I have to admit that they have failed in the face of an enormously illiberal peacetime government. The writ of habeas corpus -arguably the English Law's greatest contribution to liberty - no longer runs in the land of its birth. Notwithstanding the profession's efforts at public advocacy, our political parties are engaged in a macho contest as to who can gamble more liberties for "public safety".

So it is good to be able unequivocally to praise some lawyers somewhere. In Pakistan,  lawyers have in recent weeks and months stood up to General Musharaff, Pakistan's dictator, as no other group has dared. Many of them are paying the price. The Law Society recently reported to solicitors in England & Wales that one in four of all lawyers in Pakistan are under arrest, including the Chief Justice. It has launched an online petition which will be presented to our Prime Minister on November 23rd. I fear Gordon Brown is little more sympathetic to civil liberties than the General himself. Nonetheless, I would encourage any lawyers reading this to sign up here.

As the Economist reports in the linked article;

In Lahore, Karachi, Peshawar and Multan ...crowds of up to 2,000 lawyers have rallied against General Musharraf's coup. Wearing black suits and sleek moustaches and chanting nicely-worded slogans (“Dictatorship? Not acceptable!”), they are the general's main opponents...

With baton charges, and a whiff of tear-gas, the police are trying to quash the dissent. Hundreds of lawyers have been thrashed in the streets.

Some of my readers, including some I count as friends, will thrill a little at the thought of lawyers "thrashed in the streets." If these Pakistani lawyers stand up to the State for their clients as fiercely as they are doing it for their Constitution, I can only say that they are worth their fees.

General Musharraf calls this a state of emergency: a constitutional provision that allows for the suspension of some rights. Experts disagree. “The constitution does not provide for its own extinction. This is martial law,” said Salman Raja, one of Pakistan's finest constitutional lawyers, educated at Cambridge and Harvard—and detained in Model Town police station, Lahore.

Accustom yourself, dear readers, to the strange thought that there are lawyers worthy of your respect.

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