Ground force: the Kashmir Earthquake Appeal

The rule of law is one of the key issues animating Pakistani society. But nearly three years on from the devastating earthquake that killed 80,000 in Kashmir, some local courts are still being convened in tents – something a group of top UK lawyers is determined to help change

Ground force: the Kashmir Earthquake AppealMoments after Pakistan’s former ­president Pervez Musharraf announced that he was stepping down from his post, lawyers, ­politicians and civil activists gathered outside the country’s Supreme Court and parliament to celebrate.

They danced in the streets ­chanting “Go, Musharraf, go!” while releasing balloons into the air. The crowds carried pictures of the deposed chief justice, Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, whose ­ousting sparked 18 months of protests across the region, with ­protesters demanding a return to the rule of law.

But for one region administered by Pakistan, Musharraf’s departure will make little difference to a life and social infrastructure blighted by the aftermath of a massive earthquake.

Almost three years ago, on 8 ­October 2005, Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) was devastated by an earthquake that hit 7.6 on the Richter scale and brought about the deaths of more than 80,000 people. At the epicentre sat AJK’s capital Muzaffarabad, which suffered the collapse of most of its buildings as well as the mass loss of life.

When the news broke in the UK Baroness Butler-Sloss, former ­president of the High Court’s Family Division, and appeal judge Lord ­Justice Thorpe decided they had to do something to help. Along with Edward Nugee QC of Wilberforce Chambers, they launched the ­Muzaffarabad Earthquake Appeal at the beginning of this year.

“Lord Justice Thorpe and I were drafting the UK-Pakistan protocol to protect children taken from Britain to Pakistan before the ­earthquake ­happened,” recalls Butler-Sloss. “I’d dined with Manzoor Gilani, now the Supreme Court judge for AJK, and his wife at his home, which was ­totally destroyed in the earthquake. I wrote to him to ensure he and his wife were safe and to find out what was ­happening. He gave a stark account of what happened and we felt we ­needed to help.”

Gilani sums up the scale of the catastrophe in one word: “Massive.”

“The earth ruptured and swallowed whole buildings,” he says. “In four districts of the area the court ­buildings, lawyers’ chambers, typists and miscellaneous staff simply ­subsided into massive crevices. More than 100 officials, employees and a civil lady judge perished instantly, and thousands were left injured.”

The courts are still trying to ­recover from the destruction caused by the earthquake, which also saw all law reports and technology ­infrastructure destroyed. Today some courts are still held in tents.

Butler-Sloss and Thorpe LJ hope to raise £50,000 through the appeal, with the money being ploughed into rebuilding the courts and financing modern IT systems and functioning libraries.

Thorpe LJ says the appeal has so far raised around £15,000 through individual donations from judges of the Supreme Court of England and Wales and through a recent speech made by Butler-Sloss to the Pakistan Society Annual Dinner.

“It’s now about going out to the bar and talking to solicitors to see who’ll be able to help,” says Thorpe LJ. “Once the money is raised we’ll be sending the actual goods, such as law reports, as opposed to cash.”

Thorpe LJ says that, in addition to the appeal’s trustees, there is a ­“stellar list” of patrons. These include Lord Chief Justice Lord Phillips; the ­Master of the Rolls Sir Anthony Clarke; Queen’s Bench Division ­president Sir Igor Judge; and Law Lords Mance and Neuberger.

Old Mutual Asset Managers ­general counsel Meekal Hashmi is the solicitor representative on the appeal’s management committee. He agrees with Butler-Sloss and Thorpe LJ that importance must be laid on reviving the courthouses.

“The need for infrastructure and the concept of justice being seen to be done is core to any civilisation, and trying to rebuild the legal structure helps to bring stability,” says Hashmi. “It’s important for us to get involved, as lawyers here have a responsibility to other lawyers and the credibility of the profession worldwide.”

Hashmi explains that more fundraising events are planned in a bid to raise awareness, money and goods for AJK.

“On the face of it, it’s money we want,” Hashmi says bluntly. “Equally, though, it would be fantastic to donate Pakistan law reports and equipment like computers. We’re talking about court buildings, so ­anything you expect to find in them is what can be donated – robes, and even lights.”

In addition, Thorpe LJ says there are other incentives for UK lawyers to show support to their Kashmiri counterparts. “The majority of British Pakistanis actually have their origins in the area of AJK,” he says, “so it’s a region very much linked to us and we should try to do what we can.”

• To make a donation, cheques should be made payable to the Muzaffarabad ­Earthquake Appeal and sent to Baroness Butler-Sloss, c/o Maggie Stevenson,
7 Old Palace Yard, House of Lords, London SW1A OPW. For more information about the appeal, contact Meekal Hashmi at