The Madras High Court, on Monday, upheld the amendments prescribing 10 years of practice experience as a minimum eligibility criteria to contest elections to the State Bar Council.
"Considering the immense responsibility on the Bar Councils to maintain the highest standards of discipline, integrity and even their role in law reforms, it is necessary that the members should collectively have some experience. Therefore, a cut-off on the basis of the number of years of practice cannot also be said to be arbitrary or illegal. The number of vakalatnamas is only to ensure that the advocates concerned are in actual practice. The number of vakalatnamas in a year is only ten, which is less than one vakalatnamas in a month," the Bench comprising Chief Justice Indira Banerjee and Justice Abdul Quddhose ruled.
It, however, clarified that Advocates not eligible under the amended Rules may still file their nominations as the impugned Rules had not received BCI's approval yet. The candidature of such Advocates would be subject to the result of BCI's decision on the amendment.
The Court was hearing a Petition filed by Tamil Nadu based Advocate G. Selvakumar, who had challenged a resolution passed by a Special Committee constituted by the BCI to discharge the functions of the Bar Council of Tamil Nadu and Puducherry.
The resolution had the effect of amending a rule, thereby restricting the eligibility criteria to contest in the elections to Bar Council of Tamil Nadu and Puducherry. The amendment permitted only such lawyers to contest who have practiced continuously for 10 years. Besides, it also mandated that the contesting advocates should have filed at least 10 vakalatnamas every year for the past 5 years prior to the date of filing the nomination.
Mr. Selvakumar had challenged the amendments, as well as the Committee's power to bring in such amendments. Referring to Section 3(4) of the Advocates Act, 1961, he had contended that an Advocate can only be disqualified from contesting for membership of a State Bar Council on conditions prescribed by the BCI.
The Court, however, rejected the challenge and upheld the conditions imposed, opining that State Bar Councils are empowered to place such limitations. It observed, "Section 15 of the Advocates Act, 1961 confers power on a Bar Council and/or in other words, concurrent powers on the Bar Council of India and State Bar Councils to make rules to carry out the purposes of Chapter II of the Advocates Act read with Section 6 of the said Act, which enumerates the functions of State Bar Councils and in particular, Section 6(1)(g) and 6(1)(h). A State Bar Council has the power to frame rules for election of its members and for all other functions conferred on it by the Advocates Act, 1961."
The Court further rejected the exemption granted to senior advocates from filing vakalatnamas, noting that designation as a Senior Advocate is itself proof of the lawyer's sound reputation and standing.
It, however, added that the State Bar Council's power is subject to the approval of the BCI and that in case of any inconsistency between the Rules formed by the two bodies, it is the Rules framed by BCI that will prevail.