Autonomy Of The Bar Cannot Be Taken Over By The Court: SC Quashes Madras HC 'Disciplinary Rules' For Lawyers

Autonomy Of The Bar Cannot Be Taken Over By The Court: SC Quashes Madras HC Disciplinary Rules For Lawyers

The Supreme Court has quashed Rules 14- A to 14-D of the Rules of High Court of Madras, 1970 holding that they are ultra vires to Section 34 of the Advocates Act and usurps the power of the Bar Council in Disciplinary matters.

The bench comprising Justice Arun Mishra and Justice Vineet Saran observed that the Advocates Act never intended to confer the disciplinary powers upon the High Court or Supreme Court except to the extent dealing with an appeal under Section 38 of the Act.

The Challenge

A lawyer, R. Muthukrishnan, had filed a writ petition before the Apex court challenging vires of amended Rules 14-A, 14-B, 14-C and 14-D of the Rules of High Court of Madras, 1970 made by the High Court of Madras under section 34(1) of the Advocates' Act, 1961.

The 'Disciplinary' Rules

Rule 14-A in the Rules of High Court of Madras, 1970, introduced through an amendment in 2016, empowered the High Court to debar an Advocate from practicing. Rule 14-B empowered the Principal District Judge to initiate action against the Advocate concerned and debar him from appearing before any court within such District. 14-C prescribed the procedure to be followed. Rule 14-D empowers the court to pass an interim order prohibiting the Advocate concerned from appearing before the High Court or the subordinate courts.

Amounts To Usurpation Of The Power Of Bar Council

Referring to the provisions of the Advocates Act, the bench observed that, the Act has never intended to confer the disciplinary powers upon the High Court or upon this Court except to the extent dealing with an appeal under Section 38.

"By amending the High Court Rules in 1970, the High Court of Madras has inserted impugned Rules 14(A) to 14(D). The rules have been framed in exercise of the power conferred under Section 34 of the Advocates Act. Section 34 of the Act does not confer such a power to frame rules to debar lawyer for professional misconduct. The amendment made by providing Rule 14(A)(vii) to (xii) is not authorized under the Advocate Act. The High Court has no power to exercise the disciplinary control. It would amount to usurpation of the power of Bar Council conferred under Advocates Act."

Contempt of Court Action different from Debarment By Way Of Disciplinary Measure

The court observed that the power to debar due to contempt of court is a different aspect than suspension of enrolment or debarment by way of disciplinary measure.

Explaining the difference, the court said: " In case of debarment, enrolment continues but a person cannot appear in court once he is guilty of contempt of court until he purges himself as provided in the rule. Debarment due to having been found guilty of contempt of court is not punishment of suspending the license for a specified period or permanently removing him from the roll of Advocates. While guilty of contempt his name still continuous on the roll of concerned Bar Council unless removed or suspended by Bar Council by taking appropriate disciplinary proceedings."

The court said that, though the High Court may punish an advocate for contempt and then debar him from practicing for such specified period as may be permissible in accordance with law, but no such punishment can be imposed by way of disciplinary control. The court also observed that the debarment cannot be ordered by the High Court until and unless advocate is prosecuted under the Contempt of Courts Act.

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