3 Yrs Experience Not Mandatory For Empanelment As Jail Visiting Advocate By Legal Service Committee: Delhi HC [Read Judgment]

3 Yrs Experience Not Mandatory For Empanelment As Jail Visiting Advocate By Legal Service Committee: Delhi HC [Read Judgment]

The Delhi High Court, on Friday, clarified that legal practitioners with less than three years experience at the bar can be empaneled as jail visiting advocates by the Delhi High Court Legal Service Committee.

To this end, Justice Vibhu Bakhru relied on Regulation 8(3) of the National Legal Services Authority (Free and Competent Legal Services) Regulations, 2010, which states that "no legal practitioner having less than three years‟ experience at the Bar shall ordinarily be empanelled."

The court asserted that the Regulation clearly indicates that experience of three years at the bar is not mandatory. It explained, "The word "ordinarily" clearly indicates that in certain cases, a legal practitioner having less than three years experience at the bar may also be empanelled.

"Although, former Judicial Officers may not have the experience at the bar but it cannot be disputed that they have sufficient experience, which would establish their competence and suitability to be empanelled for providing legal services."

The court was hearing a petition filed by Advocate Vibhas Kumar Jha, who had challenged the selection of legal practitioners for empanelment with the Delhi High Court Legal Service Committee on the panel of jail visiting advocates and panel of advocates (criminal).

He had applied for being empanelled as a lawyer on the panel of jail visiting advocates. He was now aggrieved by not being selected for empanelment.

He had now challenged the selection process on three grounds. Firstly, he alleged that applications of several candidates were entertained subsequent to the last date for filing applications. Secondly, he claimed that three candidates were selected without them participating in the interview held for such selection. Two of such candidates, he said, were selected despite not having experience as required under Regulation 8(3) of the National Legal Services Authority (Free and Competent Legal Services) Regulations, 2010.

Third, he claimed that four candidates were considered and selected when they had not even applied for being empanelled on the Jail Visiting Panel.

The court, however, noted that the first contention was a "factually erroneous assumption", as the misconception had arisen because the Committee had belatedly taken the decision to call those advocates for an interview who had earlier been exempted from appearing in the interview round.

As for the second contention, it pointed out that only three candidates were exempted from the interview round and that this was done in view of the experience and standing of these candidates. This, it opined, was acceptable.

"The Committee is charged with the function of maintaining a panel of lawyers for providing legal advice. The selection process is required to be meaningful. Clearly, there would be no reason to hold interviews where the same are a mere formality.

The Committee in its discretion had decided to exempt three candidates from the interview process on account of their professional standing and this Court finds no reason for questioning the said decision. Exempting such candidates from the interview process does not, in any manner, vitiate the integrity of the selection process," it observed.

The petitioner had further submitted that three candidates had applied for being empanelled on the Criminal Panel, but were instead considered and empanelled on the Jail Visiting Panel.

The court found merit in this contention, observing, "The notice inviting applications had expressly stipulated that a candidate would be considered for empanelment to one panel only. Thus, a candidate who had applied for being empanelled for handling criminal cases (Criminal Panel) could not be considered for any other panel. The action of the Committee in considering these candidates runs contrary to the terms of its notice."

Nevertheless, it opined that the only consequence that follows is that the selection of all the three candidates for empanelment on the jail visiting panel is liable to be quashed. However, it did not consider it apposite to grant any such orders since these candidates were not parties to the petition. The petition was, therefore, dismissed.

Read the Judgment Here