4 Oct 2023 11:27 AM GMT
The Supreme Court on Wednesday (October 4) reserved its judgment in a plea challenging the system of designating advocates as “senior” under Sections 16 and 23(5) of the Advocates Act, 1961 (Act).The petition was moved by Advocate, Mathews J. Nedumpara, who argued that such designation has created a class of advocates with special rights, and the same has been seen as reserved only for...
The Supreme Court on Wednesday (October 4) reserved its judgment in a plea challenging the system of designating advocates as “senior” under Sections 16 and 23(5) of the Advocates Act, 1961 (Act).
The petition was moved by Advocate, Mathews J. Nedumpara, who argued that such designation has created a class of advocates with special rights, and the same has been seen as reserved only for the kith and kin of judges and senior advocates, politicians, ministers etc., resulting in the legal industry being “monopolized”.
The Bench comprising Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul, Sudhanshu Dhulia and C.T. Ravikumar, heard the matter.
When the matter was taken up for hearing, Advocate Nedumpara submitted that he gave up his profession because he was told that in this profession only those who have a godfather has a future. He went on to say that two years later he joined back and everyday he has been witness to the truth that only those who are privileged have a future.
In response, Justice Kaul said, "This is not a political platform to give a speech...First generation, lawyers are designated as seniors by all the High Courts". The judge said that the purpose of Section 16 was that a person is designated as a senior advocate on a basis of certain norms and has abilities so he/ she can assist the Court properly.
Nedumpara stated that he is challenging Section 16 and 23 of the Act as violative of Article 14 of the Indian Constitution. "This Court has come up with the guidelines with good intentions, but this might complicate the situation." he said.
Pertinently, here the counsel was referring to fresh guidelines issued by the Supreme Court, this year, for the designation of senior advocates following the 2018 judgment in Indira Jaising vs Supreme Court which modified the criteria for senior designation.
Denying that senior advocates are given special privileges, Justice Kaul told the counsel, "You are wrong. I will hear junior lawyers more patiently rather than a senior.... many of us have followed that practice. That is how the bar evolves."
When Nedumpara took exception to that the guidelines framed in the Indira Jaising case for senior designation, Justice Kaul said :
"At times you have to design a system to see how to designate and what procedure to follow. Sometimes it is easy to criticize. Criticism is easy but constructive working of the system is always difficult."
Counsel went on to argue that the petitioner in Indira Jaising’s case did not ask for the striking down of Section 16 and 23(5) of the Act, which is under challenge in the present petition. He further read Section 23(5) of the Advocates Act before the Court and submitted if the Parliament passes any law, then it is the Court's duty to see whether it is constitutional.
At last, after hearing the counsel at length, the Bench opined that it will evaluate the matter. It also directed the petitioner to file a synopsis and reserved its judgment.
Contents of the Petition
Inter-alia, the petition stated:
“A special class of advocates with special rights, privileges and status not available to ordinary advocates, is unconstitutional, being violative of the mandate of equality under Article 14 and the right to practice any profession under Article 19, as well as the right to life under Article 21.”
It alleged that due to this system, a vast majority of meritorious law practitioners are left behind as ordinary plebeians receiving discriminatory treatment in the Courts.
The plea compared senior designation to that of Queen's counsel in 18th century England. “The conferment of the title of the King/Queen’s counsel is the conferment of a title as a favour to lawyers who represented the Crown...The concept of Queen’s counsel is totally alien to India.”
It was further said that the impugned provisions have resulted in denial of justice to the ordinary class of litigants who cannot afford a senior advocate or who wishes to engage a senior advocate of his/her choice in whom he/she has confidence and faith.
“Lawyers representing the cause of their respective clients are entitled to equal and just treatment. However, that almost universally, is not practiced. A designated lawyer, who very often represents a bigger fish, has his way in every possible sense.”
Case Title: Mathews J. Nedumpara And Ors. v. UoI And Ors. WP(C) No. 320/2023