Observing that FIRs should not be registered against law students for posing as lawyers before the courts, the Delhi High Court has said that they should be counselled instead.
"It is understandable that Presiding Officers take an objection where law interns tend to pose as lawyers, but on the other hand, these law interns, who are merely students, should be counselled, properly informed and instructed, rather than FIRs being registered, merely on this basis," said the court.
Justice Anish Dayal said that a law intern is a student who is in process of understanding the court practice and procedures and therefore it is the “duty of the institution” to take adequate steps to facilitate their education and training and not simply punish them for these “inadvertent acts.”
“This is not to say that in an appropriate case where a person who is not enrolled as a lawyer is wearing lawyer robes and categorically representing himself as a lawyer, there would not be a case for some opprobrium and necessary action,” Justice Dayal added.
The court made the observations while quashing an FIR against a third year law student who had sought an adjournment before a Metropolitan Magistrate (MM) in Dwarka courts last year as a proxy counsel after being instructed by the advocate. However, he was neither wearing any band nor lawyer robes.
The counsel representing the law student submitted that he was under the mistaken impression that a 'proxy' is somebody who seeks an adjournment and was not sure about the ramifications of the same.
On the directions of MM, a copy of the court proceedings and student ID proof of the law student were placed before the Principal District & Sessions Judge who declined to take any legal action since the petitioner was a law student.
However, the FIR was registered on the complaint of the Secretary of Dwarka Court Bar Association. The FIR was registered under sections 419 (Punishment for cheating by personation), 177 (Furnishing false information) and 209 (Dishonestly making false claim in Court) of Indian Penal Code, 1860.
Quashing the FIR, Justice Dayal said that the issue was “amplified disproportionately” before the MM, particularly when the law student upon being queried fairly disclosed that he was an intern and also gave his ID card upon being asked to do so.
“It was not a situation where an intern was wearing the robes of an Advocate or had stated that he was an Advocate. In his understandable nervousness, if the intern stated he was a “proxy”, it would be a bona fide mistake since the word “proxy” is used informally in Courts for an Advocate who is not on record appearing before the Court, but also is not a formalized term of art which would be taken into account to implicate the law intern for an alleged offence (of impersonation, furnishing false information or dishonesty making a false claim),” the court said.
Noting that the law student was clearly confused, perplexed and unable to handle the situation, the court said that while no law student can appear as a counsel or a proxy counsel before being admitted to the bar, it cannot be said it was a case of “malintent which could implicate the petitioner for offences under the Indian Penal Code.”
On the court’s query as to whether notices to warn such interns from posing as lawyers or wearing the advocates dress have been properly exhibited, the Secretary of the Dwarka Bar Association said that certain steps have been taken.
The court said that there is a scope for “increasing the dissemination of this warning” so as to clearly inform not only the advocates “who should instruct their law interns” but also to the law interns themselves who should be careful as to how they represent their presence in court.
“Adequate and appropriate dissemination of this information would possibly reduce such incidents happening on a substantial basis. It is understandable that Presiding Officers take an objection where law interns tend to pose as lawyers, but on the other hand, these law interns who are merely students should be counselled, properly informed and instructed, rather than FIRs being registered, merely on this basis,” the court observed.
Noting that the petitioner law student has filed an undertaking that he will not appear or project himself as a lawyer in any proceeding before the court till he gets duly enrolled an advocate, the court quashed the FIR observing that no purpose would be served for the proceedings to continue.