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23rd February, 2019
Abolition of designation of lawyers as Senior Advocates, which leads to classification of lawyers into two classes, namely,
(i) the elite class of lawyers, the kith and kin, nephews and juniors of sitting and former Judges of the Supreme Court and High Courts, so too of celebrated lawyers, Chief Ministers, Governors et al, and a few first generation lawyers who are all politically connected or are close to big industrial houses and
(ii) the first generation lawyers, the underdogs, who constitute to be 95% of the legal fraternity, who are no less competent than the elite class, yet denied their due place in the Bench and the Bar,
is one of the core agendas of the National Lawyers’ Campaign for Judicial Transparency and Reforms (NLC), the others being open selection of Judges to the higher judiciary by notification of vacancies and inviting applications from all eligible candidates, video recording of Court proceedings, abolition of collegium system of appointment and transfer of Judges, abolition of the concept of absolute immunity to Judges of the higher judiciary even where they act maliciously or implicated in offences under the Indian Penal Code, to name a few.
2. The NLC’s effort to secure abolition of the concept of two classes of lawyers, as aforesaid, was foiled by Ms. Indira Jaising, Senior Advocate, by instituting a petition in the Supreme Court which has led to the transfer of the petition, namely, Writ Petition(C) No.6331/2016, filed by it in the Delhi High Court challenging Sections 16 and 23(5) of the Advocates Act, 1961 to the Supreme Court(TC(C)No.1/2017). The Hon’ble High Court of Delhi had admitted NLC’s petition and but for Ms. Jaising’s intervention the Delhi High Court would have decided the said petition on merits with a further opportunity for the NLC to approach the Supreme Court, if aggrieved. While the NLC stood for complete abolition of designation of lawyers as Senior Advocates and ordinary lawyers, the grievance of Ms. Jaising was that those lawyers who are involved in pro bono work, nay, PIL, are not considered. Her intervention resulted in the NLC’s challenge to the constitutionality of the discriminatory practice of classification of lawyers into two categories; so too the pernicious effect and real and potential threat to the just and fair administration of justice, namely, denial of legal services to the have nots, the common man, being lost its focus.
3. None of the issues raised by the NLC in its above Writ Petition was considered or decided by the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court, in its judgment dated 12th October, 2017 in Writ Petition (C) No.454 of 2015 (Indira Jaising v. Supreme Court of India) framed certain norms/ guidelines about designation of lawyers as Senior Advocates on the premise that it will make the designation more transparent and ensure that only those deserving and meritorious will be designated as Senior Advocates. Nothing could be more fartherer from truth than the same. In terms of the judgment in NLC’s case, hijacked by Ms. Jaising, reported in (2017) 9 SCC 766, the power of designation of a lawyer as a Senior Advocate ultimately vested with the Full Court of the Supreme Court or the High Courts, as the case may be. Under the collegium system in vogue, the Judges appoint Judges of the higher judiciary. Blood is thicker than water and it has resulted in the higher judiciary being the monopoly of the elite class of lawyers, a few judicial and legal dynasties. Judges designating lawyers as Senior Advocates has meant that majority of lawyers designated as such belong to the same category. Nothing can have more pernicious effect on the judiciary than that inasmuch as the Bar and Bench today are literally consisting of a few hundreds of legal and judicial families, with the son and daughter of the common man, which constitute 95% of the legal fraternity, having no place at all. This sad state of affairs has to go. The NLC is determined to fight till the aforesaid discrimination is brought to an end.
4. In the recent past, the Supreme Court designated 25 former Judges of High Courts as Senior Advocates. The Bench and the Bar are two wheels of the same chariot of justice. The obvious consideration in the automatic designation of the retired Judges as Senior Advocates is their long service in the Bar and the Bench. Article 14 of the Constitution abhors discrimination. A lawyer who has crossed 62 years and has a standing of 35 to 40 years at the Bar is entitled to be treated like a lawyer who was elevated to the Bench and back to the Bar after the age of 62 years. The NLC, therefore, while completely continues to be in opposition of the concept of designation of lawyers as Senior Advocates, demands that till the said system is abolished, lawyers who have crossed the age of 62 years and who have been in practice for 35 years, if not more, be designated as Senior Advocates as the Supreme Court was pleased to do in the case of retired High Court Judges. A petition to that effect, namely, Writ Petition No.191/2019 instituted by the NLC is listed in the Court of the Hon’ble Chief Justice of India at serial No.12 on 25th February, 2019. Shri Mathews J. Nedumpara, President of the NLC, will be representing the Petitioners therein. We hope that the petition, which seeks equal treatment of lawyers, will find acceptance with the Hon’ble Judges and 25th February, 2019 will be the beginning of a new era of justice delivery system, which is far more transparent and fair than it was.
(Rohini M. Amin)