A Pakistani strongman thumps the legal system: a courageous response

“The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.”
– Dick the Butcher
Henry VI, Part II, Act IV, scene ii

A laugh line with which Shakespeare shares with his audience his supposed contempt for attorneys?

The Bard’s recognition that the path to tyranny is best paved with rubble from a wrecked legal system?

There’s room for debate about Shakespeare’s motivation for penning this line for a script written over 400 years ago.

But it’s beyond debate that when you have the raw power to muscle aside judges and lawyers, you have the stage to yourself and the only script that need be followed is the one you write.

That’s how it’s being played out in Pakistan, where President Pervez Musharraf declared a state of emergency a week ago to “curb extremism.” This included placing the country’s Supreme Court chief justice under what amounts to house arrest. Critics say this was done to thwart a ruling on the legality of Musharraf’s re-election last month while he was (and still is) the chief of the Pakistani Army.

Hundreds of normally staid Pakistani lawyers took to the streets. Police beat them, gassed them into submission and hauled them away.

A half a world away in the United States, attitudes about the legal system are frequently shaped by a “whose-ox-is-being-gored” mentality. Whether lawyers are loved or loathed is often dependent on the result produced, and for whom.

But what if everyone’s oxen are being gored by a government strongman?

And a nation’s lawyers risk life and limb to tell him he’s wrong.

Their courageous stand for the rule of law commands respect and admiration.

Update 11/13/07: State Bar of Michigan President Ron Keefe has issued a statement supporting Pakistani lawyers who have protested against the shutdown of that nation’s legal system.


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