Supreme Court agrees to review existing system of designating Senior Advocates

Supreme Court agrees to review existing system of designating Senior Advocates

The Supreme Court on Friday issued notice to the Supreme Court Registry, the Bar Council of India, the Law Ministry, Attorney General, Supreme Court Bar Association and the Supreme Courts Advocates on Record Association on a plea challenging the designation of senior advocates.

A bench comprising Justice’s T.S. Thakur, V. Gopala Gowda and R. Banumathi asked the above to respond on the plea filed by former Additional Solicitor General Indira Jaising. Jaising was designated as a Senior Advocate by the Bombay High Court in 1986 and was also the first woman Additional Solicitor General during the UPA regime. Jaising had, on 7 July in her PIL said, "Lack of definite criteria and transparency has resulted in arbitrariness, favouritism and nepotism in the designation of senior advocates."

As per the petition, such lack of transparency has had undesirable outcomes leading to a monopoly of a few senior Counsels at the bar and has made legal services by Senior Lawyers unaffordable and out of reach of ordinary litigant. It has also led to the denial of those who come from different disciplines of law with expert knowledge in specific branches of law. The Petition also argues that renowned academicians with several books to their credit, including some who have themselves taught sitting judge are not designated and should be designated as Senior Counsel. Read the LiveLaw story here.

Ms. Jaising also alleged that there were no criteria for determining excellence in advocacy and those lawyers with domain expertise in human rights issues, family law and other specialised subjects did not often get designated as senior counsel.

The Times of India mentioned, the bench explaining as to why in 2014 the Apex Court changed the procedure for designating a lawyer as Senior Advocate from open house to secret ballot. "There were times when Judges found it difficult to object to some names. So, it was felt that they could express themselves without reservation through secret ballot," it said.

The procedure adopted for designation of senior advocates has been debated over quite a few times. Earlier in May, SCBA President Mr. Dushyant Dave had written to the CJI, demanding that the rules relating to the designation of senior advocates be revisited. Read the LiveLaw story here.

Jaising said her RTI plea asking for the bio-datas of those designated as senior advocates and those who were not in May 2015, to show that there is no well laid down criteria for granting or not granting designation, was rejected. The Indian Express quoted the bench (agreeing to examine her petition) saying, “We are not averse to hearing it. You come out with suggestions to make it (procedure) more objective. Something will emerge out of this. Perhaps something that could formally be applied to all courts.”