Lawyers as Seniors: SC frames rules

Days after it announced that it would put online reasons behind appointments and transfer of judges, the Supreme Court took another step towards transparency, this time in its process of designating senior lawyers. It laid down guidelines for itself and 24 High Courts to govern the exercise of designating lawyers as seniors and ordered setting up of a permanent committee headed by the Chief Justice of India assisted by a secretariat.

The composition of the permanent committee:

In the case of the Supreme Court, the permanent committee will comprise the Chief Justice of India and two seniormost companion judges, Attorney General of India and a representative from the bar nominated by the first four members.

For the HCs, it will have the Chief Justice of the respective HC and the Advocate General of the state in place of CJI and Attorney General.

Selection procedure:

A permanent secretariat will be set up to which applications including proposals from the judges will be submitted.

On receipt of such applications or proposals from Hon’ble Judges, the Secretariat will compile the relevant data and information with regard to the reputation, conduct, integrity of the Advocate(s) concerned including his/her participation in pro bono work; reported judgments in which the concerned Advocate(s) had appeared; the number of such judgments for the last five years.

The Secretariat will publish the proposal of the designation of a particular Advocate in the official website of the Court concerned inviting the suggestions and views of other stakeholders in the proposed designation. The cases will then be put up before the Permanent Committee for scrutiny.

The Committee will interview the candidate and make an overall evaluation on the basis of his/her number of years of practice, judgments (reported and unreported) which indicate the legal formulations advanced by the Advocate concerned in the course of the proceedings of the case, pro bono work done by him/her, domain expertise of the applicant in various branches of law and publications by the advocate.

The candidates will also have to take a personality test. After a name is considered and approved by the permanent committee, it will be put before the Full Court (involving SC/HC judges as the case may be) which will decide to accord senior designation to an advocate either unanimously or by a majority, through secret ballot. The Full Court may also recall the senior designation of a lawyer if it feels he is guilty of conduct that disentitles him to the same.

Background:

Section 16(1) of the Advocates Act, 1961 recognises senior advocates. Section 16(2) says that “an advocate may, with his consent, be designated as a senior advocate if the Supreme Court or a High Court is of opinion that by virtue of his ability (standing the Bar or special knowledge or experience in law) he is a deserving or such distinction.”

Supreme Court rules say “the Chief Justice and the judges may with the consent of the advocate, designate an advocate as a senior advocate if in their opinion by virtue of his ability; standing at the Bar or special knowledge or experience in law the said advocate is deserving of such distinction.” It was contended that this was not transparent.

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