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BCI CoP Rules: AoR Association moves Supreme Court against “alleged” withdrawal of exemption

Murali Krishnan

The Supreme Court Advocates-on-Record Association (SCAORA) has sought an impleadment in the case regarding challenge to the Bar Council of India Certificate and Place of Practice (Verification) Rules 2015.

The impleadment application, filed through SCAORA Secretary Nandini Gore, challenges the alleged withdrawal of exemption granted to AoRs from filling Verification form. Advocates on Record were earlier exempted from the requirement of filling up verification form by Rule 5(a) of the CoP Rules. Instead, AoRs had to submit a separate ‘Form E’.

Rule 5(a) states the following:

Exemption of certain categories of Advocates

However, it is made clear that the senior Advocates designated under Section 16 of the Act and the Advocates-On-Record of Supreme Court of India shall not be required to fill up the form for Verification. The Senior Advocates and Advocates-On-Record of Supreme Court of India are simply required to sent their two passport size photographs with their names and current Address to the concerned Bar Council through their respective Associations so that their names could be included in the voters-list of State Bar Council. There is a separate form ‘Form E’ for that purpose.”

The SCAORA has contended that the verification exercise is to ascertain if an advocate is in actual legal practice and same is not required for AoRs since it is done by the Supreme Court.

“Supreme Court Advocates on Record are a distinct category and all information about them is available and easily verifiable through the Computer Code allotted to them. Before becoming an AOR, the respective Bar Council itself gives continuity certificate as required under Supreme Court Rules. This continuity certificate itself is the verification by the concerned State Bar Council.  Then they submit certificates of training from AOR under whom they have taken the training before taking their examination conducted by the Supreme Court.

After becoming an AOR, the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India is maintaining the records/roll for all AORs and they are continuously governed by the Supreme Court Rules. After passing the AOR examination, a notification is issued by way of a judicial order and a certificate is issued by the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India certifying the advocate who has cleared the examination as an AOR. The name of each and every AOR along with their code and address are available on the website of the Supreme Court of India, which is in the public domain. Therefore there is no logic or justification for withdrawal of exemption available to AORs.”

SCAORA has further submitted that ‘Form E’ was sufficient to verify whether an AoR is regularly practising or not and there is no need to fill up the whole form.

What is interesting, however, is that the plea states the notification withdrawing the exemption granted to AoRs, has not be published in public domain or made available to SCAORA despite request made to the BCI on May 18.

The application therefore states that “it appears that the said exemption has been withdrawn” by way of a notification.

“That it appears that the said exemption has been withdrawn by the Bar Council of India through an amendment in the Rule brought about by a notification, which is impermissible. There is no justification in withdrawing the exemption granted to AORs. Further there has been no transparency in the process and the applicants have never been heard. The Bar Council of India has in fact never put up the so called amendment in the public domain nor has it been made available to SCAORA, despite several requests to the BCI. The form which has been issued to advocates for filing up till date carries the exemption on the front page.”

Since the notification revoking the exemption has not been made available to SCAORA, the prayer seeking quashing of the notification comes with an “if any” qualification. The following prayers have been made by SCAORA:

  • Quash the amendment notification, if any, which revokes the exemption granted under Rule 5 (a) of the Bar Council of India Certificate of Practice and place of Practice (Verification) Rules 2015;
  • direct the BCI to grant exemption to AOR’s as earlier granted.

The matter was mentioned today by SCAORA President Gopal Singh before the vacation Bench of Justices PC Ghose and Amitava Roy. The Bench has agreed to hear the matter tomorrow.

The CoP Rules, which were introduced in order to weed out the undesirable elements in the bar, required state bar councils to verify the certificates of practice of all advocates on their rolls within six months. However, these rules ended up being challenged before a number of High Courts, including the Karnataka High Court.

When the matter reached the Supreme Court in August last year, the apex court had stayed the proceedings in various High Courts. Later that year, the apex court refused to stay the Rules, making it clear that the BCI was to free to continue with the processes initiated under the Rules.

When the matter was heard on May 10, the Court had directed all state Bar Councils to complete the verification process of advocates and to submit their report to the BCI by June 30. This was after it was brought to the court’s notice that elections to various Bar Councils have been delayed as a result of the verification not happening.