Thursday, July 03, 2008

Proud to be a lawyer, redux.

Last November, I posted about a rally, organized by the New York City Bar Association, in support of Pakistani judges and lawyers who had been detained or relieved of their duties by the government of General Pervez Musharraf. The principal speaker at that rally was Ali Ahsan, a Pakistan born attorney practicing in New York, whose father is President of the Pakistani Supreme Court Bar Association, and who had been imprisoned at the time.

Yesterday, Ali Ahsan's father, Aitzaz Ahsan (photo above), was greeted with a standing ovation at a morning meeting at City Bar headquarters. In the time since the November rally, he had been released from prison, where he and many other lawyers and judges had been detained under a statute that allows arrest and confinement "to prevent the commission of a crime" (or similar words), and elections had been held which resulted in Musharraf's party being relegated to a splinter group in Parliament. Nevertheless, the new government has not yet, for reasons having to do with coalition politics, rescinded Musharraf's order stripping the Supreme Court and many lower court judges of their jurisdictional authority.

In his address to the City Bar, Mr. Ahsan recounted his difficulties in acting as defense counsel for Chief Justice Chaudhry of the Supreme Court, which were increased by the proceedings before the judicial tribunal being held in secret. He revealed one interesting aspect of Pakistan's legal system when he said that, in briefing the appeal to the Supreme Court, he cited as persuasive authority court decisions from India, with which Pakistan has been in conflict since the inception of the two nations, along with decisions from Australia, the U.S., Trinidad and Tobago, and Belize. This is because all of these nations share with Pakistan the tradition of British common law, a tradition that evidently transcends national rivalries.

Mr. Ahsan was generous in his praise of American lawyers, and Americans in general, for their support of the cause of rule of law and human rights in Pakistan. He said this feeling of gratitude was shared by many Pakistanis, but that the silence of the Bush administration on the issue of reinstating the judges and restoring the rule of law had been unhelpful. He argued forcefully that the restoration of judicial authority was essential to the fight against extremist and terrorist organizations, as such groups thrive where people have no recourse to legitimate authority to adjudicate disputes.