The clash between lawyers and the police on Tuesday outside the Supreme Court, in which a crowd of lawyers was subjected to police baton charges, rubber bullets and tear gas, did not achieve its aim of getting the lawyers’ demand met, of The Lahore High Court setting up benches at Sargodha, Gujranwala, Faisalabad, Sahiwal and Dera Ghazi Khan. Ever since the lawyers’ movement that led to the restoration of the Chief Justice in 2008, lawyers have been an aggressive section of society, quick to see offence and express resentment. This might be seen as yet another expression of this, as lawyers have resorted to lowest-common-denominator methods of obtaining their goals.

Lawyers are supposed to be an educated class of society, and use their tongues and pens in their professional life, not fisticuffs. Cases may be decided by the side that has the better lawyer. However, perhaps the wrong lessons have been learnt from the lawyers’ movement, and instead of fighting for the rule of law, they seem to want to join the culture of entitlement – provided they are one of the entitled classes. This may be why the clash was with an agency all lawyers deal with, the police, and the venue the Supreme Court, where lawyers traditionally appear before judges, and not with the ostensible intention to attack. The issue over which the protest occurred has been around for years now, rather decades. Ever since the Zia era, when the Lahore High Court set up benches at Rawalpindi, Multan and Bahawalpur, it has been argued that the High Court should be thus divided.

Lawyers have multiple interests in the issue, not least because they have to appear before the High Court for their clients, but also because they are potential judges, for whom elevation may mean shifting to Lahore. While the Zia-era measure was supposed to be administrative, it can also be seen as a precursor of the Seraiki province movement, with the LHC benches at Multan and Bahawalpur both ready to become the full-fledged high court that would be set up in any new province. That the PPP government used the issue in a desperate bid to shore up support in that area, indicates that this protest may have political motives greater than the proposed benches.

The legal community needs to weed out the hotheads from its ranks, and will need to realise that one does not become a lawyer merely by putting on a black coat. The seniors of the profession must take steps to ensure that the goodwill built by the genuine courage and resolution shown by individuals and the community during the lawyers’ movement is not frittered away by such incidents as Tuesday’s.