SC panel to pick 'senior advocates'

The Supreme Court today set up a "permanent committee" to adopt a uniform standard for according "senior advocate" status to lawyers of eminence, along with similar panels in all high courts.

By Our Legal Correspondent
  • Published 13.10.17
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SETTING UNIFORM STANDARDS

New Delhi, Oct. 12: The Supreme Court today set up a "permanent committee" to adopt a uniform standard for according "senior advocate" status to lawyers of eminence, along with similar panels in all high courts.

In the apex court, the Committee for Designation of Senior Advocates will be headed by the Chief Justice of India and include two senior-most judges and the attorney-general. The four will nominate a member of the Bar on the panel. In the high courts, such panels will be headed by the Chief Justice and include two senior-most judges and the state's advocate-general. They will pick a Bar member for the panel.

Passing the order, a bench of Justices Ranjan Gogoi, R.F Nariman and Navin Sinha said such committees shall have a permanent secretariat, the composition of which will be decided by the Chief Justice of India or the Chief Justices of the high courts, in consultation with the other members.

The directive came on a batch of petitions filed by senior advocate Indira Jaising and some other members of the Bar challenging the constitutional validity of designating senior advocates by courts and contending that it gave them an unfair advantage on various fronts.

According to the petitioners, a senior advocate gets an undeserving head start in the profession. They further contended that the "senior" tag, being a conferment made by the judges, gave the impression of recognition of an advocate by the judges and such a perception had an adverse impact professionally on others not so designated.

Normally, senior advocates have an undeclared right of preferential hearing over other lawyers. Each high court has evolved its own rules for designating advocates as seniors, which at times is decided by a secret ballot system among the judges.

The Advocates Act, 1961, mandates the courts to designate a lawyer as senior on the basis of the candidate's proven ability, standing at the Bar and/or special knowledge or experience in law.

However, it has been alleged by the Bar that in many cases, several undeserving lawyers are designated as senior advocates, causing much heartburn among others.

Today, the apex court said that henceforth, the permanent panels' secretariats at the Supreme Court and high courts will compile information on the reputation, conduct and integrity of advocates, their participation in pro-bono work and the cases argued in which there have been judgments in the last five years.

On the basis of the data, the secretariat will publish on the official website of the court the proposal to designate a particular advocate as senior, inviting the suggestions of other stakeholders, the apex court said. Once the names are cleared by the permanent committee, they will be referred to the full court, comprising all sitting judges, for approval.

In case of a difference of opinion among the judges, a secret ballot system will be adopted in exceptional cases. "Voting by secret ballot will not normally be resorted to by the full court except when unavoidable. In the event of secret ballot, decisions will be carried by a majority of the judges," the apex court said.