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In a surprising development, the Gujarat High Court Advocates Association (GHCAA) has challenged Section 16 of the Advocates Act, 1961 which classifies advocates into Senior Advocates and other advocates.
The Association has effectively sought abolition of the institution of Senior Advocates.
GHCAA President Asim Pandya, appeared and argued for the Association in the case filed by Indira Jaising challenging the Senior designation process. The matter is being heard by a Bench of Justices Ranjan Gogoi, Rohinton Fali Nairman and Navin Sinha.
Besides, Pandya, Attorney General KK Venugopal, petitioner Indira Jaising, and SCBA President RS Suri made their submissions. The Court after hearing the parties reserved its verdict.
Pandya submitted today that Section 16 is violative of Articles 14 and 18 of the Constitution.
Regarding Article 14, he said,
“Reasonable classification is permitted but there should be a rational objective. And the classification should have a nexus to the object sought to be achieved.
But by classification of lawyers into Seniors and others what is being achieved? Nothing, except that a few lawyers make more money. So the classification should be abolished as there is no object sought to be achieved.”
Pandya also contended that the provision violates Article 18, which abolishes conferment of titles.
“Senior designations have partaken the colour of ‘title’. It is used in judgments of courts, visiting cards, letter heads of lawyers etc. They are also addressed as Senior Advocates. The term has parteken the character of title and is unconstitutional.”
After Pandya completed his submissions, Mathews Nedumpara argued on behalf of The National Lawyers’ Campaign for Judicial Transparency and Reforms.
Attorney General KK Venugopal then proceeded to make his submissions.
He said that the classification does not violate Article 14, since it assists the litigants to choose whom to brief.
“The classification is based on parameters like experience, integrity and knowledge in law. The classification is not for personal monetary benefits but to assist the litigant to brief a particular counsel.
Thus, there is an object sought to be achieved which is to assist the litigant to make a choice and the classification has a nexus to the same. It helps litigants to choose lawyers.”
Venugopal also submitted that Senior Advocates incidentally make monetary benefits and expand their practice due to their designation but they also give up certain benefits they earlier had as an advocate.
“They cannot deal directly with the client. They cannot hold the office of Advocate-on-Record. If Senior designations are held to be bad, then even system of AoRs would have to be held to be bad.”
After Venugopal, Senior Advocate and Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) President RS Suri made submissions on behalf of SCBA. SCBA batted for a committee with nominees from the Bar to screen the applications for the gown.
“A committee which includes the SCBA President, and a senior member of the Bar, who is not nominated by the Bench could take a holistic view of the applications. We are against any marking or gradation. Your Lordships currently take a holistic view of the applicant and it should remain like that.”
Suri also urged the Court to consider applicants who are originally from distant places, as designations from such places can give a boost to the quality of the Bar in such places.
He also submitted that uniform standards should apply across High Courts and the Supreme Court.
Advocate ADN Rao, appearing for the Supreme Court submitted that Senior designations cannot be a subject matter of challenge.
“At the most, the suggestions which have come from various parties can be placed before the full court for its consideration”, submitted Rao.
During the hearing, SCBA Secretary Gaurav Bhatia raised the issue of pending applications of around 15 lawyers for the Senior gown. Justice Nariman indicated that the judgment would be delivered soon so that the process can re-start immediately.
The court then proceeded to reserve its judgment.