Days after Supreme Court announced that it would put online reasons behind appointments and transfer of judges, the Supreme Court took another step towards transparency, this time in its process of designating senior lawyers. It laid down guidelines Thursday for itself and 24 High Courts to govern the exercise of designating lawyers as seniors and ordered setting up of a permanent committee headed by the Chief Justice of India assisted by a secretariat.
Delivering its verdict on a petition filed by senior counsel Indira Jaising challenging the designation process, a three-judge bench headed by Justice Ranjan Gogoi said that in the case of the Supreme Court, the permanent committee will comprise the Chief Justice of India and two seniormost companion judges, Attorney General of India and a representative from the bar nominated by the first four members. For the HCs, it will have the Chief Justice of the respective HC and the Advocate General of the state in place of CJI and Attorney General.
The bench, also comprising Justices R F Nariman and Navin Sinha, proposed the setting up of a permanent secretariat to which applications including proposals from the judges will be submitted. “On receipt of such applications or proposals from Hon’ble Judges, the Secretariat will compile the relevant data and information with regard to the reputation, conduct, integrity of the Advocate concerned including his/her participation in pro bono work, reported judgments in which the concerned Advocate(s) had appeared, the number of such judgments for the last five years”, the order said.
The Secretariat will publish the proposal of designation of a particular Advocate in the official website of the Court concerned inviting the suggestions and views of other stakeholders in the proposed designation. The cases will then be put up before the Permanent Committee for scrutiny.
The Committee will interview the candidate and make an overall evaluation on the basis of his/her number of years of practice, judgments (reported and unreported) which indicate the legal formulations advanced by the Advocate concerned in the course of the proceedings of the case, pro bono work done by him/her, domain expertise of the applicant in various branches of law and publications by the advocate.
The candidates will also have to take a personality test.
After a name is considered and approved by the permanent committee, it will be put before the Full Court (involving SC/HC judges as the case may be) which will decide to accord senior designation to an advocate either unanimously or by majority, through secret ballot. The Full Court may also recall the senior designation of a lawyer if it feels he is guilty of conduct that disentitles him to the same.
During the hearing, Attorney General of India K K Venugopal had told the court that the designation of senior advocates cannot be termed “bad in law” and it does not violate Article 14 of Constitution (equality before law).
Section 16(1) of the Advocates Act, 1961 recognises senior advocates. Section 16(2) says that “an advocate may, with his consent, be designated as senior advocate if the Supreme Court or a High Court is of opinion that by virtue of his ability (standing a the Bar or special knowledge or experience in law) he is deserving or such distinction.”
Supreme Court rules say “the Chief Justice and the judges may with the consent of the advocate, designate an advocate as senior advocate if in their opinion by virtue of his ability; standing at the Bar or special knowledge or experience in law the said advocate is deserving of such distinction.” It was contended that this was not transparent.