Supreme Court issues guidelines to accord senior designation to lawyers
New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Thursday laid down a set of guidelines to govern the exercise of designating senior advocates by the apex court and all other high courts in the country.
Senior advocate is a designation that can be conferred on advocates in the Supreme Court or high courts after years of practice at the bar. This designation is usually given to an advocate for having specialized knowledge in the field of law.
They can be recognized from other advocates by the gown worn by them and can usually charge hefty sums of money for legal services under the designation. A senior advocate has to follow a separate code of conduct where he/she is prohibited from accepting certain kinds of legal work, such as drafting, drawing pleadings or affidavits.
The court ruled on a plea by senior advocate, Indira Jaisingh who challenged the current procedure of designating senior advocates in the apex court and sought guidelines to regulate the same.
Under the new system, all matters related to designation of senior advocates will now be dealt with by a “permanent committee” consisting of five members—the chief justice of India along with two senior-most judges of the Supreme Court/high court, attorney general of India/advocate general of state. The four members will nominate the fifth member.
All applications will have to be submitted to the secretariat who will compile the information on the basis of reputation, conduct, integrity of the advocate including participation in pro-bono work, reported judgment in which the advocate has appeared, and the number of such judgments.
After collating information, it will be directed to the permanent committee for scrutiny which will examine it, interview the candidate and make an overall assessment on the basis of a point-based format.
The petition had challenged the constitutional validity of Sections 16 and 23(5) of the Advocates Act, 1961 which provide the statutory basis for designation of lawyers as senior advocate.
Seeking to rule out the monopoly assigned to the bar for making such designations, it was submitted that the ‘arbitrary and discriminatory manner’ in which it was done by the apex court in exercise of powers under the provisions of the Advocates Act,1961 must be put to an end.
It was sought that the appointments be carried out of a “permanent selection committee with a secretariat headed by a lay person” including the attorney general, representatives from the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) and the advocates-on-record association, as well as academics.
Jaising had argued that the current method of designation was ‘arbitrary and discriminatory’ due to which several deserving advocates were not given due consideration under it. She urged the court to lay down an objective, fair and transparent criteria to ensure equality in the legal profession.
On Independence Day, Jaisingh started gown wapasi (return) movement and said that she would shed her senior counsel gown as a symbol of discrimination in the current system.