Asma Jahangir’s election as the first woman President of the the Supreme Court Bar Association of Pakistan today continues to complicate the changing frontiers of judiciary/executive confrontation in Pakistan. The election was hotly contested with Jahangir scoring a narrow victory over Ahmad Awas by 38 votes.
While Asma Jahangir’s credentials as a lawyer, human rights campaigner and public intellectual are impeccable, the election was also viewed as the playing out of two different but interlinked political movements. Some have viewed this as a conflict over over liberalism, with her opponent being as close to the religious right factions of the bar. Others, including her opponent have tried to present this as a debate over judicial activism. They have argued that Jahangir is the proxy government candidate, who hope that her victory will help them reign in Chief Justice Chaudhary and the Supreme Court. Jahangir had participated in the protest over the dismissal of Justice Chaudhary but had oft late urged judicial restrain and asked the court and the bar to restore neutrality. Commentators have deplored the politicization of elections to a professional association. This politicization and sustained media interest is not surprising.
Scholars of comparative law are only recently drawing the linkages between the bar and judicial activism. Terry Halliday, Lucien Karpik and Malcom Feeley have emperically established a connection between independent legal profession and the existence of social and political liberalism. They argue that an independent bar, even staffed with the most conservative lawyers, will come to the defence of basic political and civil liberties in a repressive regime.
I have come across very little research on the politics of the Indian bar, and would be grateful if I could be directed to any. I was also curious if the readers, most of whom have greater familiarity with daily legal practice, would agree with this formulation. Do Indian bar associations take up questions of judicial behavior or independence?