Senior Advocate Gurminder Singh was recently appointed as the new Advocate General (AG) for Punjab, to represent the ruling Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government before the courts..He is the third AG to be appointed in the one-and-a-half year span since the AAP came to power, underlining the current dispensation’s predicament in finding a permanent holder for the position..Singh, 56, was designated as a Senior Advocate by the Punjab & Haryana High Court in January 2014. Besides handling constitutional, commercial, tender, service, arbitration and criminal litigation, he has previously served as Punjab's Assistant Advocate General, Deputy Advocate General and Additional Advocate General.In his new role, Singh aims to bring stability to his office, besides maintaining equilibrium with the government's various wings, especially the legal department..In this exclusive interview with Bar & Bench’s Aamir Khan, Singh talks about why instability has marred the AG office recently, his priorities, the High Court’s reluctance to use video-conferencing facilities and more. .Edited excerpts follow..Aamir Khan (AK): Your are the third AG to be appointed in the last one-and-a-half years in Punjab. Why has there been instability in the AG office? .Gurminder Singh (GS): As the government came in about a year-and-a-half ago, sometimes these appointments were made at that stage, with whatever the wisdom prevailed with the government.But over a period of time, maybe the equation or the personal reasons of the AGs saw them favour private practice. So both of them have decided to resign for personal reasons, and once the AG resigns, the government has no choice but to find the next suitable man according to their own choice..AK: Your appointment has come at a time when the Punjab government seems to be struggling to defend cases in courts. How do you reflect on the situation?.GS: Legal challenges will keep coming before every government and the present challenges always seem bigger than the ones which have gone by.There are a large number of changes that this government wants to make for a better, positive, public-oriented approach. Because of that, a lot of policies are drawn up and a lot of schemes are being made for the benefit of the common man such as delivery of atta (wheat flour) at the doorstep and simplification of revenue records..In all of this, certain cases come up for judicial scrutiny. There always remains a possibility of the court maybe interfering in a scheme or two, but that would not reflect on the generality of the situation.I would say that they've been managing to get through more schemes than have been scrapped. The only thing is because these are present, contemporary problems, they are seeming a little bigger. I'm sure they'll make it through. .AK: Issues over policies, agriculture and water distribution to the neighbouring State of Haryana have often landed before the courts. Is there any particular issue you’d now want to prioritise?.GS: The government basically is trying to bring around a lot of welfare schemes for the poor. And primarily the one which they've successfully been able to implement is waiver of electricity bills. Secondly, they've been able to regularise about 30,000 employees, with 12,000 in the first instance and then in later batches, who have been working for many years. They’ve created a dying cadre so that these people can continue in that capacity till the age of normal superannuation. Then they brought about the scheme of redistribution of atta instead of wheat at the doorstep of the people who are below poverty line and hold red cards..With all these schemes, they've been trying to reach out to the common man and make some major changes at the ground level. We are mainly looking to assist the government in processing the matters so that the decision-making process becomes defendable in court.That would be my first priority, so that there is a pre-consult before issuance of any policy matter, so that later it does not just remain a damage control exercise. But then one can give them slightly sound advice on the defensibility of the decision as far as judicial review goes..AK: Talking about judicial review, what about the Gram Panchayat dissolution matter? A statement in the Supreme Court was made that the government would withdraw its notification. What happened there?.GS: The first issue in the Gram Panchayat election was when petitions were filed against the dissolution of panchayats and appointment of administrators. At that stage, one of the issues which came up before the Court and upon which the State was asked to reply was the element of public interest in dissolution of such a large number of panchayats which were a mandatory requirement under the (Punjab Panchayati Raj) Act.Now, at that stage, the State in its wisdom thought that it is better — rather than going ahead and defending that decision — to withdraw it and maybe do it in a better way. So, at that stage, a statement was made by the then Advocate General before the Court that they would be withdrawing the decision of dissolution..AK: What is your strategy now that you are the AG of Punjab? .GS: I want bring about a reduction in litigation. The government can be advised to make broad-based policies and take generic decisions so that a large section of society can address litigation to a large extent and the number of people coming to courts can be reduced. Take issues like service litigation, where there are lakhs of employees. In case an issue gets decided by the court in favour of one employee, and hundreds of others are positioned on similar issues, I want a change where the government can give relief to all similarly placed people, so that they are not forced to come to court.This will mitigate the burden on the state exchequer, on pendency before the courts, the man hours of the AG office and increase their efficiency to a large extent..AK: Is there any suggestion you want to give the Punjab government to improve how things work?.GS: Sometimes, what the departments are lacking is coordination. In pending cases, an issue can involve the Education Department, but if it touches on reservation, then it involves the Department of Social Welfare or Personnel. I think coordination among departments can be made a little better. More importantly, if the coordination among the wings - meaning the Advocate General's office and the bureaucracy - can work in tandem, it can really result in faster disposal of cases by way of better application of mind and decision making process..AK: You refer to reducing pendency. Against the sanctioned strength of 85 judges in the Punjab and Haryana High Court, only 57 judges are presiding at present. How do you think the deficit impacts cases in Punjab?.GS: Appointment of judges, I guess, is an ongoing process. The Chief Justice (of India) along with the Collegium is continuously trying to send recommendations to fill up vacant posts. And such is the case where judicial officers are to be promoted and appointed to the High Court.But these processes are taking a long time. Unless the first set of recommendations are processed, the second set is usually not sent by the High Court for the same set of vacancies. There is definitely a delay which is happening at the stage of processing these recommendations..This issue has already has been taken cognisance of by a bench of the Supreme Court. They have told the government that transfers and appointments per se should not remain pending for so long and it should be processed and cleared at a much faster pace. The retirements will continue to happen. That is an inevitability nobody can avoid. Then the replacements of those vacancies with people by making recommendations and finalising those and fructifying into appointments has to be very speedy, but it is not happening. We all know it, but for what reasons? I guess the executive and the judiciary have to work in tandem and cooperate at least on the issue of appointments, because it is going to affect the justice dispensation system eventually..AK: You once talked about the existing lump sum fee pattern, prevalent among 95 per cent of the lawyers who charge on a per case basis in Punjab. Do you think the existing norm needs an overhaul in the light of the longevity of cases?.GS: The fee charging on a per hearing basis has actually evolved in larger towns. In the metros, it has almost become a norm because of the fact that the availability of senior lawyers is not much required and a person may appear on one date, but may not be available on the next date. Essentially, as far as the upper bracket of counsel are concerned, they are charging upper hearing fee. But in smaller courts, and especially in smaller towns, this trend will take very long to sort of establish itself.Lawyers of a particular standing - maybe around 5 or 7 percent - would be charging that amount, but largely, I think it's going to take a lot of time to convert to the per hearing basis. .AK: Have you identified any issues of the Bar that you'd want to take up? .GS: The one thing which really concerns me is that because of the pendency, cases are not being heard at length because the workload of the courts is too much. Lawyers have too many matters listed, and it's difficult to pursue and discharge the obligation of arguing every matter which is listed.As a result, youngsters entering the profession are not being groomed and trained as we did in our formative days. Because at that time, after lunchtime, only regular cases were heard, where seasoned lawyers argued for two hours and one sat behind and watched them.Unfortunately in our High Court, we do not have regular days where only regular matters are heard..I think pendency of cases and shortage of time has stunted the growth of a good BarGurminder Singh, Punjab Advocate General.On a normal day, when all miscellaneous matters are heard, there is no exchange or argument from which a youngster can learn and gain. And this is not only in case of theoretical knowledge, but also advocacy and court craft. A youngster learns far more by observing and experiencing than they can learn in a law college. I think pendency of cases and shortage of time has stunted the growth of a good Bar. Youngsters are not getting groomed. They don't have time. Everybody's in a hurry. The young bar is not patient..AK: What is your expectation from the new crop of lawyers that are entering the profession? .GS: My only one tagline is that in a profession like law, there is no shortcut to success. You have to be patient, you have to learn and you have to be integral in your practice in order to cultivate a good reputation for yourself over a period of time.It is only when you're established by the grit of your hard work, the rewards will start coming.Sometimes, young lawyers get very disgruntled because their counterparts in corporate practice are drawing decent salaries and they are still struggling to get a junior fee or a retainer-ship.The element of research of course is a strong suit of a lot of young lawyers. I think that really helps the Bar to grow. So young lawyers, wherever they get a legal preposition, should extensively indulge in research of those legal issues.That will not only help them in assisting senior lawyers, but also help them grow in the profession as far as their own comprehension of law is concerned..AK: What changes in the litigation landscape have you noticed in the last three decades?.GS: There are two things which have happened. Firstly of course, litigation has become pretty expensive. For a common man to afford it has become rather difficult.Secondly, because of the shortage of time, the trend of the laying down of the law in cases where issues are determined and extensive judgments are written to be followed in subsequent cases, is on the wane.I think it matters, because rendering justice is more important than writing judgments. Matters are being disposed of far more by effective short orders, which do not become precedents as far as citing them is concerned. Though people are getting cases disposed of, there is really no fresh law being laid and no development and dynamic growth of law is happening as much as it should. It should happen far more than it is. .AK: What is your take on the use of artificial intelligence (AI) in the judiciary?.GS: As far as processes and logistics are concerned, artificial intelligence can do a lot of good in easing the system. But when it comes to legal decisions, I guess it's always a very healthy blend of pure factual assistance coupled with legal assistance and tempered with emotional proportion.Law and equity have to go hand-in-hand, so dispensation of the human element in decisions can never be substituted by AI. .AK: The Supreme Court has been advocating for the conduct of virtual hearings and recently heard a plea stating that the Punjab & Haryana High Court had completely stopped using video conferencing for hearings. Why do you think this happened?.GS: Let’s understand that video conferencing is an option of today. It has developed due to COVID-19, but it should have been there as an option, which of course has not happened for two reasons. There are essentially two brackets of advocates who practice in courts. The ones who practice in a High Court and are senior enough and are recognised. By virtue of video conferencing, their reach gets an increase. They can be in Chandigarh and appear for matters in Delhi, Bombay or Indore by video-conferencing if the client is ready to brief them. So for them, it becomes a tool of assistance..Now there is another bracket of young lawyers, who do a lot of appellate and criminal work and get their cases from the district courts. Their essential edge is that they can come to Chandigarh where they practice, file those matters and whatever orders are passed leads to augmentation of their practice.However, if video-conferencing starts resulting in district court lawyers themselves conducting the cases online rather than giving them to young lawyers who have started their practice, it affects their practice to a large extent. .Therefore, it's very difficult to say if it is really an ideal solution as far as practicing lawyers are concerned. But I think it should definitely be made available as an option. Hybrid hearings, according to me, is the right mix of video-conferencing and personal appearance and it will make justice accessible.A person who cannot afford to travel far for getting justice will start getting it if they can appear in court through video-conferencing.