27 April 2020 3:11 PM GMT
A PIL has been filed in the Supreme Court seeking to draw up a uniform policy for giving financial assistance to lawyers in times of emergencies, like the present outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic and others in the future. The petition has been filed by Advocate and Executive Member of the Supreme Court Advocate on Record Association, Mr. Abhinav Ramkrishna who pointed out that lawyers...
A PIL has been filed in the Supreme Court seeking to draw up a uniform policy for giving financial assistance to lawyers in times of emergencies, like the present outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic and others in the future.
The petition has been filed by Advocate and Executive Member of the Supreme Court Advocate on Record Association, Mr. Abhinav Ramkrishna who pointed out that lawyers across the nation have been paying welfare amount upon filing of the Vakalatnama each time they enter appearance. Thus, during this unprecedented situation it is incumbent upon all the State Bar Councils to come clean with the amount of funds they have in the welfare account.
Through his petition, Ramkrishna has drawn attention of the court towards various welfare schemes for providing financial assistance to distressed lawyers that have been announced by Bar Councils of various states. He has pointed out that these schemes, extremely variant in nature, prescribe certain classifications for extending financial assistance, such as stipulations relating to years of practice, age and non-extension of benefit to those who are assessible to income tax.
Taking exception to these conditions, the Petitioner has urged the court to direct the Central Government to prepare a "uniform national level scheme" under the Advocates' Welfare Fund Act 2001, to deal with the present situation and similar situations if arisen in future.
He has asserted that all such classifications are arbitrary and ultra vires the Constitution.
On this note, the Petitioner has raised the following issues before the court:
1) Whether decision of the various State Bar Councils to merely extending a paltry sum as one-time payment for loss of work and income to the lawyers for sustenance, can be termed as dignified treatment and thus violative of Article 21 of the Constitution?
Bar Councils in the States of Delhi, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat and Kerala have announced to provide "one-time financial assistance" to daily earning lawyers. Impugning these conditions, the Petitioner has argued that the same will not serve the purpose of providing a dignified life to the distressed lawyers and their families.
2) Whether in a given situation at hand, can a decision of the state bar councils to put a cap of annual income, as a pre-requisite condition to grant aid and assistance to any lawyer is violative of Article 14 of the Constitution?
Pointing out that the Bar Council of Gujarat has decided to extend financial assistance to only such lawyers who are not income tax assesses, the Petitioner has submitted that no lawyer can be deprived of welfare scheme for the reason that he/she is assessible to income tax.
He has submitted that such classification could be reasonable only if the Bar Council puts a bracket of annual income and extends the scheme to even those, who are paying income tax.
3) Whether a lawyer on ground of his years of standing at bar or filing of income tax returns can be deprived of the benefit if he/she needs financial assistance?
Citing the example of Bar Council of Maharashtra & Goa, the Petitioner has asserted the classification to provide financial assistance to only those lawyers with standing practice of less than 10 years is not based upon any reasonableness and the same is arbitrary against those who have standing practice above 10 years and yet not in a sound economical position.
4) Can a decision of the state bar councils can be permitted to grant financial aid under the guise of the loan, especially when the fund is to be released from welfare account?
The Karnataka State Bar Council has decided to grant an "interest free loan" of Rs.10,000/- to Advocates in need. In this backdrop the Petitioner has contended that "once an amount is said to be have been disbursed under a welfare scheme during the time national crisis, giving the same a colour of debt/loan is not only against the objective of any welfare act, but the same is like ensuing an insult upon a needy lawyer."
Inter alia, the Petitioner has also sought the court to decide whether the State Bar Council of Bihar & Jharkhand have run away from their legal and statutory duties towards the lawyers, in light of the fact that no scheme for financial assistance has been announced by them till date.
On the point of maintainability, the Petitioner has submitted that since the Bar Council of India and the State Bar Councils are the creation of the statute and fall under the categories of "other authorities" within the meaning of Article 12 of the Constitution, therefore they are amenable to writ jurisdiction of the court under Article 32 of the Constitution.
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