The Telegraph
Sunday , May 25 , 2014
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Judge proposes price for lawyer seniority

New Delhi, May 24: Retired Supreme Court judge K.S. Radhakrishnan has suggested that senior advocates who charge prohibitive amounts as fees should be compelled to take up at least 10-12 cases a month free of cost, failing which they should be stripped of seniority.

Some senior advocates of the top court and high courts are known to charge Rs 5-10 lakh per case for even a five-minute appearance. Owing to their eminence and expertise, the courts give preference to hearing their submissions, leading to a scramble by companies and individual litigants to engage them. Their fees, however, put them largely out of the reach of the common man.

Justice Radhakrishnan, who retired on May 14, is credited with many landmark judgments. One such is the ruling that transgenders should be treated as a third sex, which would entitle them to all fundamental rights and reservation benefits enjoyed by OBCs in education and jobs.

He had also recently sent Sahara chief Subrata Roy to Tihar jail for non-payment of investors’ money to the tune of over Rs 20,000 crore.

Speaking to The Telegraph at his Delhi residence, Justice Radhakrishnan — he is from Kochi district —conceded that the Supreme Court was not infallible, but defended the judiciary from criticism that it frequently tended to overreach the legislature and the executive.

Some excerpts from the interview:

Q: Courts have become increasingly unaffordable because of the huge fees charged by advocates, particularly senior counsel. Any suggestions to combat the practice?

A: Parties indulging in litigation can always avail of the Alternative Disputes Resolution Mechanism (arbitration, conciliation and mediation), which have been set up all over the country. Only those persons not availing of those facilities need approach the court.

Of course, criminal cases cannot be resolved through ADR. In my view, every designated senior counsel should conduct at least 12 cases, either free of charge or at the fee fixed by a committee — consisting of senior judges and senior lawyers of a particular court — so that persons who cannot afford to engage senior counsel in various courts in the country, including the Supreme Court, would get better legal assistance.

If the designated senior counsel are not forthcoming to fulfil their commitments to society, the court that has granted the senior designation-ship can withdraw the same. By this mechanism, persons who cannot afford to come to the high court or the Supreme Court would get effective and better legal assistance to conduct cases.

Q: Is the Supreme Court infallible? Or do you admit that at times it has tended to overreach its jurisdiction?

A: Institutions that are infallible are yet to be born because they are manned by human beings. Such institutions might have overreached the jurisdiction and, most of the occasions, so far as the judiciary is concerned, it was for upholding socio-economic rights as well as human rights.

Q: Even assuming that the Supreme Court has overreached, is it not justified…

A: When citizens come with genuine grievances before the court for violation of fundamental rights, the constitutional courts will be failing in their duty if they do not protect those rights. If the court’s views are not acceptable to Parliament, it can always legislate, taking away the substratum of the judgment without affecting the basic structure of the Constitution or violating fundamental rights.

Q: There is growing criticism of the “uncle judges” syndrome (kith and kin of judges practising in the same court). What is your comment?

A: As far as possible, it should be avoided. But ultimately, everything depends upon the character of the persons involved.