Indira Jaising continues battle against SC Senior designations, files PIL

Murali Krishnan

From the south all the way up to the north, from the Karnataka High Court to the Supreme Court of India, another controversy is now taking shape.

Senior Advocate and former Additional Solicitor General Indira Jaising has filed a petition in the Supreme Court challenging the allegedly non-transparent and arbitrary method followed by the Supreme Court of India in designating Senior Advocates.

This comes a few months after she had written a letter to Chief Justice of India, HL Dattu alleging lack of transparency in senior designation.

In her petition, Jaising has questioned the discrimination meted out to capable advocates when it comes to “giving them the gown”. She has alleged violation of Article 14 and 15 by the Supreme Court in the procedure followed for designating lawyers as Senior Advocates. She has contended that,

“It is pertinent to mention that the operation of the existing system of designation has particularly resulted in severe discrimination against persons from minority communities, differently-abled and women.  In the last 15 years i.e., from 2000 onwards only, one Dalit has been designated by the Supreme Court, and only two from the Muslim Community….

The Advocates from backward States like Uttar Pradesh, Chattisgarh, Jharkhand or Bihar have not been designated at all. The Advocates from rural background are totally ignored.  Even with regard to a progressive State like Karnataka, only one Advocate has been designated after a gap of 25 years. It is relevant to mention that in the last round of designation, out of five advocates designated, four of them belonged to one caste.”

The petition challenges the method of voting pointing out that designation as Senior Advocate is not something akin to a beauty contest or an election but must be based on an objective evaluation of forensic and academic skills. She has, therefore, contended that the method of designation by vote leads to unhealthy lobbying with judges and victimizes ethical lawyers who do not lobby.

Jaising has also taken a dig at the current crop of Seniors who hold sway over the Supreme Court practice alleging that lack of transparency has led to a monopoly of a few Senior Advocates at the Bar and has made legal services by Senior lawyers unaffordable for ordinary litigants. Jaising has also cited non-designation of Advocates who deal with Public interest Litigation matters and human rights cases alleging the following:

“With regard to Advocates who conduct PIL cases and Advocates who have confined their practices in the area of their Domain Expertise, the Petitioner submits that there appears to be an unwritten bias against them.  In the last three decades, the Supreme Court has not designated any Advocate coming from either of this class.  The general impression at the Bar is that the PIL lawyers who espouse the issues concerning Human Rights and Environmental issues are denied designation for their anti-establishment attitude.”

Jaising has, therefore, contended that the present procedure adopted by the Supreme Court is arbitrary and wholly non-transparent and not in the public interest.

The issue of Senior designation had cropped in the Karnataka High Court also in the recent past when two lawyers had challenged the Senior designations made by the High Court in 2014. The High Court had refused to entertain the petition whereupon they had approached the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court had then directed the High Court to hear the case on merits.

Image taken from here.

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