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Controversy over HC advocate honour

Calcutta, June 5: Arunava Ghosh, a prominent Calcutta High Court lawyer, today refused to accept the honorary “senior advocate” tag offered by a five-judge collegium, protesting “discrepancies” in the selection process.

“This is the first time a senior lawyer has refused to accept the honour. Many other lawyers of the high court have aired their grievances at the selection process. The discrepancies in the selection process are glaring and several people in our profession think it has been diluted to include more people in the list,” a senior advocate said.

Senior advocates can be identified by their gowns, which have longer sleeves than those worn by advocates and have rectangular flaps attached to the shoulders.

Officially, there are no specific advantages of the status, but it is a coveted tag because of the prestige attached to it. Besides respect and recognition at the Bar and the bench, senior advocates tend to command higher fees than advocates.

The senior advocate tag is a recognition of a lawyer’s prowess and his or her standing at the Bar. High court judges refer the names of prospective candidates to the collegium, which does the selection. Different courts have different selection criteria.

Recently, the five-judge collegium, including Chief Justice A.K. Mishra, selected 33 lawyers from a pool of over 9,000 to honour them as senior advocates.

Besides Ghosh, some other prominent lawyers on the list are Manotosh Mukherjee, Sekhar Basu, Partha Sengupta and Milan Mukherjee.

“Me and my senior, Partha Sengupta, have been offered the honour together. Similarly, advocates who are much junior to us have been included in the list. So, I think the selection process was wrong. I will not accept the honour in protest,” Ghosh told The Telegraph.

Explaining the reason behind his refusal, Ghosh gave the example of Mukherjee, whose name was enrolled with the Bar in 1950. “He is being offered the honour along with an advocate who was enrolled in 1998. This should not be done,” Ghosh said.

This is the first time in 14 years that Calcutta High Court has conferred the honour on advocates. In 2000, around 10 lawyers had been made senior advocates.

“At present, the high court has 200-odd senior advocates. I can’t recollect an earlier instance where more than 10 lawyers were given the honour together,” said a senior advocate who got the honour in 2000.

Sources in the high court said Chief Justice Mishra took the initiative to honour some prominent advocates.

“Initially, 15 names had been selected. But the chief justice asked the judges to recommend more names. The judges did so and the list grew to 33,” a court source said.