Madras HC Directs Framing Of Guidelines For Selection Of Govt Law Officers [Read Order]

Madras HC Directs Framing Of Guidelines For Selection Of Govt Law Officers [Read Order]

“No appointment should be made either for pursuing a political purpose or for giving some undue advantage to any section”

While dealing with a petition filed by a practising lawyer against the selection procedure of Government Law Officers, the Madras High Court has directed the government to frame guidelines for selection of Government Law Officers.  The petition was filed challenging the selection process under the “Appointment of Law Officers of High Court of Madras and its Bench at Madurai (Appointment) Rules, 2017”. As per Rule 5, the Advocate General has to forward a list of names for being considered for appointment as Government Law Officers. The names will be considered by a Selection Panel comprising the Advocate General, Secretaries of the Departments of Law, Public and Home.

The method of appointment was challenged as contrary to the Supreme Court decision in State of Punjab and Another vs. Brijeshwar Singh Chahal and Another, reported in (2016) 6 SCC 1, where it was declared that the method of appointment of Government Law Officers should be free from arbitrariness. According to him, conferring power on the Advocate General to forward names was arbitrary. The petitioner has also impugned Rule 7(1) providing for the removal of Government Law Officers without reason by giving one month's notice or on payment of one month's retainer fee in lieu of such notice, as unreasonable.

A division bench comprising Chief Justice Indira Banerjee and Justice Abdul Quddhose did not accept the contentions of petitioner, and stated as follows:

In our view, the Rule 5(4) does not confer unbridled powers on the Advocate General. The Advocate General is only to make preliminary scrutiny of the applications received from eligible lawyers and forward the names of all eligible candidates to the Government, after a preliminary enquiry. The rule does not authorise the Advocate General to selectively hold back eligible advocates. After the Advocate General forwards the names of eligible advocates to the Government, the Government is required to place the same before a Selection Committee comprising of the Advocate General, the Secretary (Public),the Secretary (Home) and the Secretary (Law) for selection.

 The court also clarified that requirement to notify the names has to be read as part of the Rules.

At the same time, the court noted that there were no guidelines in place in respect of the criteria for selection. On the importance of selecting meritorious lawyers, the court noted as follows:

Quality of judgment or justice administered by the Courts is directly proportionate to the quality of assistance that the Courts get from Counsel appearing in a case. Poor assistance by Counsel who are not sufficiently equipped in scholarship, experience or commitment would adversely affect the administration of justice by the Court. The State being party to a very large percentage of the litigation pending in the High Court, should make every endeavor to make legal assistance of a high standard available to the Court. In our view, there should be prescribed guidelines laying down

the criteria and norms of selection by giving weightage to Court appearances, advocacy, drafting skills, legal acumen, reported and unreported judgments, behaviour, integrity, reputation and the like. No appointment should be made either for pursuing a political purpose or for giving some undue advantage to any section.

 Therefore, the court directed the government to frame definite guidelines for the manner and/or criteria of selection of advocates to the post of Government Law Officers and in particular, the mode of giving weightage to court appearances, advocacy, legal acumen, quality of drafting pleadings, reported and unreported judgments, academic background, integrity, behaviour, general reputation, etc., for all future appointments. It further directed that applications should be invited from eligible advocates by putting up notices in the recognized Bar Associations.

Read the Order Here