Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi has impelled the expectations of Advocates on designation as Senior Advocate since he is expected to fast-track the process which has been suffering procrastination despite his popular directions on judicial side issued on 16 October 2017.
The Parliament, following the English practice of designation of Barristers as Queen’s Counsel, has vested in the Supreme Court and High Courts concurrent powers under Section 16(2) of the Advocates Act, 1961, to designate an Advocate as Senior Advocate if the Chief Justice and Judges constituting the Full Court are satisfied that the Advocate deserves the distinction having regard to his standing at the Bar and or domain expertise in particular area of law.
The designation of Advocates in the Supreme Court and High Courts invited widespread criticism for rigidity, selectivity and arbitrariness. The Advocates with domain expertise felt they were particularly discriminated for want of regular appearances in the court as general practitioners appear regularly. Noted lawyer Indira Jaising moved a Public Interest Litigation seeking formulation of objective criteria and involvement of the Bar in the transparent appraisal of the profiles of Advocates on their standing and expertise before designating them as Senior Advocates. A bench headed by then Justice Ranjan Gogoi on 16th October, 2017, directed the Supreme Court and High Courts on administrative side to constitute a Permanent Committee on Designation consisting of Chief Justice, two senior-most judges, Attorney General (Advocate-General) and eminent lawyer for recommending the names of Advocates to the Full Court after an overall assessment based on 100 points index [Indira Jaising vs. Supreme Court of India, 2017 (9) SCC 766]. The index prescribes marks on experience at the Bar, the pro bono work and more importantly the domain expertise supported by reported cases and publications.
The Supreme Court on its administrative side, unfortunately, has not implemented its own judgment passed on the judicial side for last one year, pouring cold water on the expectations of the Bar. Even the High Courts have not implemented the directions. On 6 August 2018, the Supreme Court belatedly issued a notice, calling for applications from the intending Advocates. The transparent guidelines invited an unprecedented response from the Bar as about 120 Advocates, many of them who were sidelined for no rhyme or reasons, have responded to the application. Some of the applicant advocates are well known names for their standing and domain expertise in niche areas. They were neglected in the previous non-transparent system of designation.
However, even after six weeks of the submission of applications pursuant to the notice of 6 August 2018, the basic scrutiny has not been completed by the Secretariat of the Permanent Committee. Under the Rules, the names of applicant Advocates have to be put on the Supreme Court website for 15 days inviting views of the stakeholders. Thereafter, the Permanent Committee would hold an interview or interaction with the applicant Advocates to finalise the recommendations to Full Court for its final decision.
For many lawyers, becoming designated senior advocates is a shortcut to make pronominal money. In the present system, the contribution of many senior lawyers to the society, despite the huge income they earn, is abysmal.
There is a hope that more number of capable seniors may reduce the litigation cost substantially.
It is also a fact that many competent lawyers have not applied for senior designation as they feel that it is for the court to recognise them and confer designation. Generally, Bar has welcomed the new rules of designation as they feel that the new system is far better than the slow and opaque designation process that existed earlier. The delay in designation has led to discontent among many applicants and they earnestly hope that the new CJI would give due attention to the selection process.