They said they were reacting to a “change” made on March 11 by the National Judicial (Policy Making) Committee that they interpret as restricting the powers of judicial officers who could previously order the police to register FIRs.
Court officers were empowered to register police cases under sections 22(A) and (B) of the Code of Criminal Procedure. They would do this if someone came to them with the complaint that the police were not registering an FIR. And so, the law had allowed district and sessions judges to act as “Justices of the Peace” and order the registration of an FIR if the police refused to file one.
But at the meeting chaired by Chief Justice Asif Saeed Khosa, the committee decided to only allow the SP (Investigations) of a district the power to register an FIR. “In case the police officer declines to register a case, then people will have to go to the high court,” a lawyer said.
Bar councils and associations have been protesting as a result.
The secretary of the National Judicial (Policy Making) Committee clarified, however, that a piece of news about Section 22-A(6) has been misinterpreted by the media and some sections of the bar councils and associations. Dr Muhammad Raheem Awan said in a press statement that an office of SP (Complaints) has been created in every district as part of a “police redressal mechanism” to increase internal accountability. The new rule doesn’t take away the powers of the civil courts, the statement said.
“An aggrieved person can still lawfully approach a Justice of the Peace or a high court in respect of a complaint against the police after the SP doesn’t register the complaint,” the statement added.
Regardless of the committee’s stance, lawyers went public with their position. The main gates of the civil courts were locked to stop people from entering the premises on Monday. Rangers, lawyers, people and the police anxiously waited for someone to open the gate in the afternoon.
“Your people have done this,” a policeman told a lawyer outside the gate. “Now, you should ask them to open it.”
A few phone calls later, the gates were opened for everyone. But inside the courtrooms were also locked. Nine people sat in the waiting area that is usually buzzing with people.
“This is not the right way to protest anything,” said a man who had come from Korangi to meet his cousin who has been imprisoned over a land dispute. “The lawyers should strike for an hour or two. A complete boycott makes no sense.”
The man had come with three women to get an update on his cousin’s case. “We are hopeful that he [their cousin] will be released soon. How will anything happen if hearings are delayed?”
The silence outside the courts stood in striking contrast to the protest outside the Karachi Bar Association. Lawyers swarmed outside the building as they spoke against the decision to implement the new rule.
A charged Ali Ahmad Kurd, the former president of the Supreme Court Bar Association, was vocal about the decision. We work to help people get justice, he said. “This new rule is about our ‘rozi’ [employment]. We will not let anyone take our jobs.” We don’t like to stage strikes. We want this rule to be taken back. There should be no amendment, he remarked.
“If that doesn’t happen, then know that we have jawan mard [young men] as leaders of the bar association,” he said as the audience, comprising a majority of men, clapped enthusiastically.
“Dekho dekho kaun aya… Sher aaya, sher aaya,” the protesting lawyers chanted as Ali Ahmad Kurd spoke. (Look who has come… The lion has come, the lion has come.)
Any lawyer who is not standing with us right now is not from among us, he added.
“People needed the old law more than us,” said Naeem Qureshi, the president of the Karachi Bar Association. “We don’t have any personal vendetta. We want to work to help people.”
The government and parliament should support us at least, he said. “People don’t realise the difficulty it will cause them. They [the authorities] are trying to make Pakistan a police state,” Qureshi remarked.