The administration of justice is one of the primary functions of a state. The efficient and effective dispensation of justice is a prerequisite to ensure the rule of law and good governance in any country. As an important principle of state policy, Article 37 of the constitution of Pakistan provides that state shall ensure inexpensive and expeditious justice. Regrettably, the state and quality of the judicial system in our country is anything but satisfactory. According to Rule of Law Index 2014 released by the World Justice Project, Pakistan stands at 68th and 94th positions in terms of criminal and civil administration of justice respectively, among the 99 assessed countries in the world. It is quite worrisome that now Pakistan can be found only next to a war-torn country like Afghanistan and other least-developed African countries in similar surveys and assessments.

Lawyers, together with the judiciary, set the pace, direction and quality of the dispensation of justice. Therefore, their competence, efficiency and integrity are all important. Presently, the legal profession in Pakistan is facing many issues ranging from the quality of legal education imparted by various private-sector law colleges to the flawed procedure for the enrolment of lawyers. There have also been certain complaints regarding the professional misconduct of the lawyers vis-à-vis their clients, and their attitude towards the courts.

One of the primary reasons for all these issues is that the regulatory mechanism has miserably failed in regulating professional conduct and ensuring professional standards for lawyers in the country. Legal Practitioners and Bar Councils Act, 1973 deals with various regulatory and professional matters involving the lawyers in Pakistan. Under this law, Pakistan Bar Council and provincial bar councils act as the statutory regulator for the lawyers at national and provincial levels. The members of provincial bar councils are directly elected by the lawyers in each province on various district-wise reserved seats. The members of Pakistan Bar Council are further elected by all the members of provincial bar councils on the basis of single transferable vote through proportional representation. In fact, following the regulatory structure provided by the Advocates Act, 1961 in India, Pakistan has also decided to opt for a regulatory mechanism for the lawyers controlled by a popularly elected lawyers body like the bar councils.

The bar councils have not yet been successful in ensuring an effective and efficient regulatory regime in Pakistan. These elected bodies have been observed showing a considerable degree of leniency towards their electors. Instead of performing any pro-active role, they have chosen to be merely nominal and ceremonial entities. There are certain bar associations at the Supreme Court, High courts and each district levels which are acting as the representative bodies of the lawyers. However, what these representatives are doing for the collective good of the legal fraternity is another topic of discussion.

As a matter of fact, the structure and function of these bar councils and bar associations have been resorted to typical power politics. The sole purpose of the elected members of these bodies seems only to become known and familiar in the legal circles. It helps them in enhancing their face value and increasing monetary gains from their clients. This is the reason that they spend millions of rupees to secure a seat through various bar elections.

There should be some sort of difference between the form and function of bar councils and bar associations. Indeed, a regulatory body essentially requires a greater degree of competence and discipline than a representative body. There are many countries in the world which have introduced effective regulatory mechanisms to regulate the conduct of lawyers. In the UK, the Bar Standards Boards (BSB) is an efficient and well-organized regulatory body for the lawyers. It sets various standards of conduct for the barristers, authorizes them to practice, sets education and training requirements, monitors the quality of services provided by the lawyers, handles complaints and takes enforcement actions against the barristers. These functions were originally carried out by the Bar Council, the barristers’ representative body, until 2006 when BSB was created as an independent regulator. This is a highly professional and committed body whose members are selected through a rigorous selection process by an independent appointments panel. It has gone a long way in improving the state and quality of legal services In England.

Now, aiming at ensuring strict regulatory compliance in Pakistan, we should also introduce some fundamental structural and functional changes within the regulatory bodies like the bar councils. Unlike the bar association, the members of this body should be selected by an independent panel on the basis of their professional competence and integrity. Besides this, there ought to be some serious endeavours to plug the loopholes in the judicial system in Pakistan. No judicial reforms or policy can be enforced in the country without the active support and assistance of the legal fraternity. Therefore, lawyers must play their part to ensure qualitative dispensation of justice in Pakistan.

The writer is a lawyer.