Spotlight is a series where we shine the, well, spotlight on lawyers, judges and legal experts who made news over the past week.
Following a close contest, Senior Advocate Vikas Singh emerged triumphant once again to be re-elected as President of the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA), a feat he first achieved in 2017.
A margin of 251 votes separated Singh from his closest rival, Senior Advocate Ranjit Kumar.
Singh is known to mince no words in stating his opinions, sometimes attracting brickbats for this tendency. Besides regularly featuring on prime-time debates on news channels, he is often heard making strong pitches on the system judicial appointments, lawyers’ rights and adapting to new administrative measures, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Singh, according to the information available online, was born in 1960 and did his schooling at St. Michael’s School, Patna. He graduated in Chemistry (Honours) from Patna Science College, and spent a year at Ravenshaw College in Cuttack as well.
He has been practicing for over 30 years, having started his career in the legal profession in 1990. He was designated as a Senior Advocate in 2004 and had served as Additional Solicitor General for India from 2005 to 2008.
Singh also contributes towards social causes and has been a major proponent of children’s education, extending support to organisations working in this field.
He is also stated to be a visiting faculty member in the Indian Parliament for giving lectures on various issues, including legislative drafting and legal education.
Senior Counsel Vikas Pahwa, who is a senior member executive SCBA, termed Singh as a "phenomenal" leader, someone who works selflessly for the welfare of the Bar.
"I have had the privilege of working with him in the same Committee for the past year and have been given the same opportunity again. I can say with a sense of responsibility that his personal interest or agenda never influences his decisions as President of the SCBA. He takes tough but fair decisions for the welfare of the members," he pointed out.
He also revealed that unlike many other leaders who hold their positions purely for personal gains, Singh takes decisions for the larger interest of the body.
"This does antagonise a few people, but he takes it in his stride, without worrying about how it may affect his personal popularity or professional life," he underlined.
Pahwa said Singh called a spade a spade and was extremely firm in his decision-making.
"Vikas leads from the front and follows what he preaches. While collecting money for giving financial assistance to the members during Covid, he was the first one to make a generous contribution before requesting others to contribute. While introducing vaccination in the SCBA for the first time (a stage where people were sceptical). he was the first one to get vaccinated to give confidence to the members," he pointed out.
Pahwa further said that Singh maintained a great work-life balance, having a substantial passion for tennis, besides being an active yoga practitioner and an avid fan of bridge.
"He loves to travel and certainly enjoys his drink. He has worked extremely hard to get to where he is and has made a name for himself in this highly competitive field. Along his way, he has also made some great relationships and is always there for his family and friends," added Pahwa.
Mumbai-based criminal lawyer Satish Maneshinde had represented Bollywood actor Rhea Chakraborty in the Sushant Singh death case. Singh was appearing for the late actor’s father.
Maneshinde recollected fighting “bitter battles” in that case, as well as others. However, he said,
“Bitterness remains inside the court and we don’t carry it outside. Singh has been a good lawyer and good friend inside and outside court. I meet him more outside court than inside court."
Maneshinde remembered meeting Singh at all Cricket World Cup matches India has played in since 2011, be it in London, Mumbai or Australia.
"He has always been there. Particularly in the finals. Apart from being a competent lawyer, he is a follower of sports. It is good that he has been re-elected. He did a lot of work during the pandemic and that is the reason why he has been re-elected for the good work he has done and I wish him all the best as President of SCBA,” he shared.
“As SCBA President, I would request him to look into the situation where a large number of junior lawyers start their practice in the Supreme Court or the appellate courts. Junior lawyers should be advised to pan out to the trial courts and mofussil courts to see what is happening in rural areas where people are not aware of their rights,” Maneshinde suggested.
Singh being the leader of the Bar for a long time, would look into the issue and carry out his role as he had done in the past, the Mumbai-based lawyer added.
Singh has often made statements that have attracted wide publicity in the media. There have also been occasions when courts have been in disagreement over his opinions and remarks.
In October, 2021, while representing real estate company Unitech in the Supreme Court he said,
“How many companies will this court run? Amrapali you are running, Unitech you are running, Supertech you are running. You have arrested my father, my wife, arrest my children also. Put us all behind bars…”
The statement didn’t go down too well with the judges of the apex court.
That same year, in August, while defending lawyer and BJP spokesperson Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay in a case related to anti-Muslim sloganeering at Delhi's Jantar Mantar, the senior lawyer said,
“I will be the last person to defend someone making such a hate speech. The country will get completely divided if we allow such speeches."
In 2020, while representing Sushant Singh Rajput's father in the case concerning the jurisdiction to hear the case, he said,
“I am from Patna and without my son I have no one to light my funeral pyre. This itself shows that Patna has jurisdiction...No one has seen my son hanging. When my daughter reached, Sushant was lying on the bed. This needs investigation. As soon as mourning was over, he (Rajput’s father) registered the FIR in Patna.”
While representing BJP MP Manoj Tiwari, who allegedly broken the seal of a locked property in the national capital, Singh on one occasion said,
“If I had not done it, the mob would have turned violent. People might have died. Your Lordships sit in this cosy place where nobody questions Your Lordships. However, I am answerable to the people.”
At the farewell function of former Chief Justice of India SA Bobde, Singh revealed,
"While he was in the initial stage of the Ayodhya hearing, he was of firm view that the problem could be resolved through mediation. He asked me if Shah Rukh Khan can be a part of the committee. I asked and he was more than willing. Unfortunately, mediation did not work.”
Singh’s victory in the SCBA elections came close on the heels of an event organised by the lawyers’ body to mark a conference attended by the Chief Justices of all High Courts in the country.
The SCBA President on Friday said he had no quarrel with the Collegium system, but the power to appoint judges came with a huge responsibility. He suggested that lawyers practicing in the Supreme Court should also be considered for appointments.
“Last year, when we suggested this to CJI Ramana, he readily agreed. We formed a search committee and recommended names. But why do we have to form this committee? Why cannot the Chief Justices of HCs form their own committee and find out who are eligible? It is the responsibility of the Chief Justices of High Courts to find out who practices in Supreme Court and who are doing well,” he said.
Singh also expressed reservations on the “quality of judges” and said that if it did not improve, a wrong signal would go out to the world.
“Why cannot women lawyers practicing in Supreme Court be elevated in High Courts?” he asked further.