Legal Profession caught between Politics and Professionalism

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Gone are the days when legal profession used to be socially considered as a noble profession. The image attached to the legal profession, once held high in the eyes of the people, is now under increasing attack, mostly by the lawyers themselves. Common men used to look up to the lawyers as an expert of law as well as a social engineer, standing for the cause of humanity and voicing against various social, political and economic injustice. Social image of the lawyers was thus to be equated with those of a real hero, who would always be on toe for guarding mass conscience. Lawyers were seen as successful vocal leaders of many social movements against exploitation, social, economic and political. People’s confidence and respect for the legal profession was so high that a lawyer in a family would surely add to its social reputation. However, the social image of lawyers is very much in crisis these days and that should alarm not only the profession but also the society, at large.

The nobility attached to the legal profession demands certain “professional duties” to be performed by the lawyers. The lawyers’ professional duties and responsibilities can be categorized into four different groups:

Duty towards the Court: A lawyer is said to be an officer of the court. It is his paramount duty to assist the court to meet the end of justice. The lawyers are not to misguide the court or to intentionally obstruct the course of justice just to benefit his fraudulent client. They should avoid any kind of corrupt practices that might help them to win the case in hand. The lawyers should remember that they are required to perform their professional duties in such a way that common men’s respect in the justice system is maintained at high level all the time.

Duty towards the Client: A lawyer should provide his best professional service to uphold the cause of his client and to use his expertise in assuring justice to his client from the court. The efficiency, with which a lawyer would represent his client, should never be compromised. The lawyers should utilize their ‘due diligence’ in handling their clients’ case. They are expected to further the cause of their clients with utmost sincerity and to avoid any conflict of interest. Moreover, the lawyers should maintain the confidentiality of their clients’ cases so that the matter does not get prejudiced.

Duty towards the Colleagues : Lawyers have certain professional responsibilities towards his colleagues, no matter whether they are associates, senior or junior, or lawyers of the opposite litigating party. Lawyers should always be respectful to each other and should maintain a healthy working environment both in the chamber and in the court premises. It is against professional ethics to criticize the efficiency of other colleague lawyers or to speak ill about them in public.

Duty towards the Society: The lawyers are considered to be social engineers. They have a duty towards the society at large. As respected citizens of the country, the lawyers should behave in such a way so that the legal profession stands as a model profession in the society. Lawyers should of course raise their voice against any injustice inflicted upon innocents. They all should work, both individually and collectively, to establish rule of law in the society. Lawyers, as experts in law, should know that their views do influence public opinion and as such, they should guard against mis-utilization of their image in the society.

It must be stated that it is not an easy job for lawyers to perform all four categories of duties equally efficiently at the same time. However, a good professional lawyer would know how to strike a balance among various kinds of duties. Each category of the duties is important for lawyers and failure to perform any one of them would surely erode social trust on the legal profession. Therefore, it is crucial that lawyers should be in continuous vigilance of their own behaviour to protect the social image of the legal profession, as a whole.

In this background, it is stated that the current trend of increasing politicization of the legal profession is alarming. It is not only harmful for the profession per se but also to the society at large. Wholesale politicization of legal profession distorts the vision of pluralistic society where lawyers have a professional role to play. There is nothing wrong in lawyers becoming politically conscious or even to be politically ambitious. I would say that every citizen in this country has a right to do so. However, the present practice of lawyers on compromising legal ethics and professional responsibilities to serve blindly their party-political interests should be condemned.

It is unfortunate to notice that many of the leading lawyers of our country today serve as reserved intellectual army to the political parties. Their expertise and the position of social acceptability are used by these political parties to further their own political agenda. It is shocking that some of the reputed lawyers of our country have actually become mere puppets in the hands of national political leaders who would want such lawyers to work as a legal stamp, at times to their unreasonable party-political demands. Professional lawyers are seen to be divided according to their party political beliefs so much so that they would sacrifice their professional responsibilities for the party-political interests.

Professionals could be a-political; but they should not compromise their professionalism for party politics, so long they are in pursuit of professional duties. It is painful to observe that today’s professional lawyers, being divided upon political affiliation, would attach polarized meaning to the provisions of Constitution to serve the wishes of their respective party politburo. It is ridiculous to find that the very notion of justice is now be either “Awami justice” or “BNP justice”! Also, it seems that today the professional lawyers have vowed to establish that BNP rule of law is better than Awami rule of law or vice versa. To add to the agony, certain behaviours of professional lawyers holding very high position in the legal profession are mainly guided by their party-political interests and ambitions. It is stated that such trend of politicization of the legal profession should be consciously discouraged as it would cause some irreparable harms to the legal profession in future:

Firstly, the social image of lawyers would move from one of ‘legal experts’ to the one of ‘political puppets’;

Secondly, certain activities undertaken in the court premises in furtherance of party-political interests, would erode people’s trust in the justice delivery system and also, in legal profession;

Thirdly, indiscriminate involvement in party politics would surely make the lawyers to compromise on their professional duties towards the court, their client, and their colleagues and as such, to the society;

Fourthly, it would set a very bad trend for new generation lawyers who are expected to learn ‘professionalism’ from their learned seniors.

It is, therefore, high time the legal profession realizes that moving away from professionalism would not bring any good to the profession in the long-run. As professional lawyers they are committed to guard the reputation of their profession. The expectation from leaders in the legal profession is thus very high; for them it is urgent that they uphold the image of professionalism at any cost.

Having said so, I now consider it necessary to differentiate between ‘pro-party politics’ and ‘pro-people politics’. Pro-people politics demands that political activists would raise their voice against any injustice inflicted upon the common people, irrespective of their class, race, gender or even party political affiliation. On the other hand, pro-party politics is one where the political activists rest their blind faith in a particular political party, even when that party is found to have committed a wrong. I sincerely believe that today’s legal professionals should be engaged in pro-people politics, which would strengthen their bond with the society as a professional. It is imperative that a real lawyer stands up for the cause of humanity. A real lawyer, being a respected professional, should be in a position to express his views and to criticise the wrongdoings in the society independent of any party politics. A real lawyer should find it shameful to serve as a puppet in the hand of the political parties. Moreover, he should never ever let his professional place and position to be used as a pandemonium of any particular political party.

There are a few ways lawyers can be motivated to be more professional:

  1. Teaching of legal ethics and professional responsibility should be given a very high priority in training and examination of lawyers, both at the academic stage and vocational stage;
  2. The trainee lawyers undergoing pupillage at various law chambers should be closely monitored by the senior lawyers so that the trainees understand issues of legal ethics and professional responsibilities that might arise in day to day scenario;
  3. Bar Council and Bar Associations should organize regular seminars on legal ethics and professional responsibility so as to establish the importance of professionalism among lawyers;
  4. Bar Council should impose exemplary sanctions against lawyers who are in breach of their professional responsibilities;
  5. Bar Council in conjunction with various Bar Associations of the country can formulate Best Practice Rules for lawyers and keep continuously updating the same;
  6. There should be regular publications (weekly or monthly) from Attorney General’s office where members of bench and bar would write on the issue of legal ethics and professional responsibility;
  7. Bar Associations of the country should function as “organizations of professional lawyers” and not as “organizations of political lawyers”.

In conclusion, I repeat that there is no harm in lawyers becoming politically active. However, the political agenda of real lawyers should never ever undermine their professional image. Legal profession in Bangladesh today is in dire need of real lawyers – the professional lawyers, who would efficiently serve the court, the clients, the colleagues and the society without there being any fear, favour or force from any political party.

Author: Barrister Dr. Tureen Afroz,

Dhaka, Bangladesh