The Bar Council of India on Wednesday came out with a press release against a website for indulging in advertisements of lawyers in violation of the BCI Rules.
The subject of the controversy is a website "https://toplawyersofsupremecourtofindia.com", a five year old portal categorizing different lawyers of the SC as "1st Category Senior Advocates", "2nd Category Senior Advocates" and "3rd List (Good Junior Advocates)". The website has been taken down since the BCI's press release.
Without discussion of any evidence or material, the Council identified two advocates - Rahul Trivedi and Suhasini Sen - as the ones prima facie behind the creation and promotion of the website. There is no discussion in the press release as to how the Council happened to zero in on these two names.
The BCI stated that they would be liable to be face disciplinary action.
The press release made a categorical statement that they "indulged in the practice of illegal advertisement".
When LiveLaw reached out to Suhasini Sen, who was completely caught unawares by the BCI Press Release, she said that she had no association with the website in question.
"I have no part whatsoever in creating this website and have absolutely nothing to do with it. I was neither informed nor was my consent taken by whoever made this website. I would never do something like this. The information about me and the photograph placed on the website are available in the public domain in connection with a scholarship for further studies that I had received in 2012. I haven't yet received a show cause notice from the BCI, but I will reply to it as soon I receive it", she said.
Slamming the BCI for selectively naming her out of several others who happened to be listed in the site, Senior Advocate Gopal Sankaranarayanan said-
"There is no basis that is apparent as to how the Bar Council concluded that Ms. Suhasini Sen had anything to do with the website in question, and why her name was singled out from among the 24 other names mentioned on that page".
Sankaranarayanan also called out the BCI for publicizing highly defamatory remarks against a junior member even before the issuance of a formal show-cause notice and an enquiry process.
"A cursory examination would show that the website is registered to a specific mobile number and address, which is in no way linked to Suhasini. It appears that a motivated complaint has been acted upon by the Bar Council without any evidence or basic principles of natural justice and they have taken the unusual step of inserting it in a press release, thereby publicly maligning her. The normal procedure is to issue a private show cause notice and elicit a response."
Rahul Trivedi was not available for comments, though LiveLaw tried to reach him.
Soon after these allegations came to the fore, questions have been asked about the BCI's jurisdiction to initiate such proceedings in the first place, since the Advocates Act 1961, under which it is established, empowers State Bar Councils to look into acts of misconduct as the original authority.
Clarifying the same, Advocate Mihira Sood told LiveLaw that the action of BCI appears to be without jurisdiction. She said:-
"Sections 6 and 7 of the Advocates Act are clear that cases of alleged misconduct by any advocate are to be adjudged by the concerned State Bar Council. The BCI has jurisdiction only when a case is referred to it by the State Bar Council, or other exceptional circumstances, such as where the advocate is no longer on the rolls of any State Bar. The press release is clear that the matter is being taken up without any such referral or exceptional circumstance, and is therefore, prima facie, without jurisdiction."
She added that the BCI's action was a clear violation of the principles of natural justice.
"Discussing a disciplinary matter in a press release is extremely inappropriate. Further, to name lawyers in this manner, with no evidence and no opportunity of defense given before destroying her reputation is not at all in keeping with due process, and this practice must be condemned".
In the press release, the BCI took serious objection to the fact that names of hundreds of advocates having "roaring practice" are left out from the categories listed in the site.
"The sinister game of these two Advocates raises serious doubt on their conduct when they name only five Advocates as "Good Junior Advocates" and only 10 Senior Advocates in their so-called category 2…. All this has been done deliberately and prima facie, it is in clear violation of Rules of Bar Council of India", the BCI said.
It was further stated :
"An advocate under the Rules of the BCI cannot mention/display anything except his/her name, address, details of his enrolment, professional and academic qualifications, name of State Bar Council where he/she is enrolled, name of Bar Association of which he/she is a member, and areas of his/her practice. However this website operated by the above noted Advocates has been attempting to highlight a few Advocates of Supreme Court and Delhi High Court naming them as 'Top Lawyers of Supreme Court of India' in garb and with the real intention of actually highlighting and promoting themselves i.e. so called 'Good Junior Advocates' as maximum of these few Senior Advocates do not require highlighting, or promotion of their work which speaks for itself."
Some of the names published on the website include that of noted and reputed lawyers such as Mr. Fali S. Nariman, Mr. KK Venugopal, Mr. Soli Sorabji, Mr. K Parasaran, Mr. Harish N Salve, Mr. Tulsi, Mr. Mukul Rohatgi, Mr. Sundaram, Mr. Gopal Subramanium etc.
"This is just one of such many websites", added the BCI while authorizing its Chairman, Manan Kumar Mishra, to write to the judges of the Supreme Court on the issue, "since it is tarnishing the image of the judiciary and the judges also."
Click here to read BCI's press release