Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy recently published a survey report covering various aspects associated with the practice of law and the justice delivery system in India.
Around 2800 advocates practicing before 8 different High Courts participated in the detailed survey. The survey was limited to the High Courts of Allahabad, Bombay, Calcutta, Delhi, Gujarat, Kerala, Madras and Patna. These 8 High Courts account for 57% of the total High Court judges in the country.
The report focusses on three main heads: advocates' perception of the higher judiciary, relationship of advocates with the Bar Councils and earnings and practice of advocates.
The questions under this head were aimed to measure the perceptions of advocates on different aspects of judicial functioning such as: (i) probity (ii) competence (iii) impartiality and (iv) independence from the government.
The table below highlights the lawyers' perception on corruption in the higher judiciary. It is to be noted that on a scale of one to ten, a maximum score of ten suggests that corruption is well entrenched in the higher judiciary.
A majority of the participants, across all 8 High Courts, believed that the judges of their respective courts are fairly independent.
On this aspect, it was noted that over 50% of the advocates practising before the Gujarat High Court were of the view that they were getting a fair hearing for their cases. In a stark contrast, 22% of the Madras High Court advocates who were surveyed believed that they were “rarely” getting a fair hearing for their cases before the High Court.
Further, it was found that 97.19%, 82.87% and 93.22 % of the surveyed advocates at the High Courts of Calcutta, Delhi and Patna respectively felt that their chance of getting a fair hearing largely depended on the bench.
This question received mixed responses from all the advocates surveyed. A good number of Bombay High Court advocates expressed satisfaction on the quality of adjudication.
On the point of the Collegium system of appointments, the advocates in the survey were asked whether the same ensured appointment of the most competent Judges. Pertinently, around 62% and 59% of the surveyed advocates belonging to Delhi High Court and the Madras High Court respectively expressed that the Supreme Court Collegium did not ensure the appointment of competent and effective judges to the Bench.
On the other hand, a whopping 94.1% of Calcutta High Court advocates voted in the affirmative. Many advocates who particicpated in the survey from Allahabad, Bombay and Patna High Court were also of a similar view.
On a related note, the advocates were further asked whether the Collegium system of appointments be continued with or be replaced with some other mechanism such as the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC).
Some of the key conclusions read as given below:
64% of Kerala High Court advocates in the survey opted for the need for NJAC.
Over 50% of Bombay High Court surveyed advocates were of the view that the present system should be continued. Interestingly, only less than 1% of the Patna High Court lawyers were of this view.
About 30% of Advocates of 5 out of 8 High Courts opined that the existing collegium system should continue, with greater transparency.
This part of the survey delved into the relationship between advocates and the Bar Council of India.
A few topics covered under this theme constituted a new regulatory framework to replace the existing regulatory framework, effectiveness of welfare funds, restrictions imposed by the Bar Council of India against the advertising of legal services, the popularity of the colonial dress code that is prescribed by the Bar Council Rules, and lastly, the aspect of continuing legal education (CLE).
With regard to the effectiveness of the Advocates Welfare Fund, 92.4%, 65.7% and 75.4% of the surveyed advocates at the High Courts of Delhi, Madras and Gujarat respectively stated that there were not aware of anyone having received financial assistance under the fund.
Over 94% of the advocates surveyed from Patna High Court were of the view that the Bar Council should amend its rules to allow advertising to potential clients. In fact, it was noted that apart from advocates in the Delhi and Madras High Courts, many lawyers from the other 6 High Courts were in favour of amending the Bar Council Rules to allow advertising of lawyers.
It was observed that most of the surveyed advocates were in favour of the black gowns and jacket, with 97.75% and 97.46% lawyers of the Calcutta and Patna High Cours respectively in favour of the existing dress code.
Once again, the survey showed mixed responses under this category, with many surveyed lawyers from the Bombay High Court conveying that they were extremely satisfied with the quality of regulation of the legal profession by the Bar Council. The lawyers had given a score of 10 on 10 in this regard. On the other hand, many surveyed lawyers from the Patna, Kerala and Madras High Courts gave a score of 5 on a maximum of 10 in this aspect.
The Vidhi survey points out that there have been very few surveys pertaining to earnings of lawyers and due to the same, it has been difficult to find even basic information about their earnings and their practice. However, the same is necessary for policymakers as there appears to be increasing turmoil and insecurity amongst advocates which manifests itself in the form of strikes.
Under this sub-category, the following headings were included:
48.5%, 44.97%, 46.57%, 39.75% and 48.87% of the surveyed advocates at the High Courts of Allahabad, Bombay, Kerala, Madras and Patna respectively were of the view that the average monthly income of an advocate in the first two years of practice is in the range of Rs. 5000-20,000.
Advocates from the Calcutta and Gujarat High Courts seem to be doing better; 67.13% and 56.06% of the survey participants opined that the monthly income for those new to the profession was in the range of Rs. 20,000-40,000.
The graph below shows what the lawyers thought the average earnings of a High Court Advocate with 10 years of experience was.
Under this head, most of the surveyed advocates concluded that caste did not play a role. However, 58.66% of the surveyed advocates in Bombay High Court were of the opinion that caste was a crucial factor in getting briefs.
It was noted that, on an average, majority of the Senior Advocates charged more than 80,000 per hearing, the surveyed lawyers opined. However, the sample shows that the lawyers in Patna and Calcutta High Courts opposed this view.
Over 71% of lawyers in Delhi opined that Seniors charge over Rs. 1 lakh per hearing.
Interestingly, it was seen that over 70% of all the surveyed advocates (in all 8 High Courts) responded positively on this aspect.
This question received mixed responses from all survyed advocates. About 78% of surveyed Advocates in Allahabad High Court and over 80% in Patna High Court felt that Advocates should be allowed the choice to argue in either English or their local language.
On the other hand, a good number advocates in Calcutta, Gujarat and Madras High Courts were of the opinion that English should continue to be the language in which High Courts conduct their proceedings.
[Read full report here]