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Law Officers: Numbers irrelevant, appointments must be transparent, says Supreme Court

Law Officers: Numbers irrelevant, appointments must be transparent, says Supreme Court

Murali Krishnan

Ever wondered why one comes across so many lawyers carrying the title of “Additional” or “Deputy” Advocate General of Haryana? The answer may be found in petitions currently being heard by the Supreme Court:  an affidavit filed by the Haryana government has revealed that it currently employs 183 law officers for conducting cases in High Court. Furthermore, there are no rules or regulations governing their engagement.

Two Petitions: Punjab & Haryana

There are two petitions concerning appointments of law officers for High Court – one concerning the State of Haryana and the other, the State of Punjab.

The issue involved in both petitions is the arbitrary engagement of lawyers in the Advocate General’s office; seemingly on an arbitrary basis without any supporting legislation or guidelines of any sort. The petitioners have alleged that the same is in violation of Article 14 and have challenged these appointments.

Haryana: 183 Law officers, appointment is AG’s discretion

As per the affidavit filed by Haryana, the State currently employs 58 Additional Advocate Generals, one Senior Deputy Advocate General, 62 Deputy Advocate Generals, and 62 Assistant Advocate Generals for conducting its cases in the High Court.

The affidavit also makes it clear that “the engagement of law officers are not governed by any Rules and Regulations”. As per the affidavit, the power to appoint the Additional, Deputy and Assistant Advocate Generals is vested with the Advocate General who derives this power from para 3 of the Law Department Manual.

The affidavit states the following:

“…on the recommendations of the Advocate General, Haryana, legal practitioners are engaged by the State government conferring various designations on such legal practitioners i.e., Additional Advocate General, Deputy Advocate General and Assistant Advocate General on monthly remuneration/ salary. The recommendations for engagement can be made by the Ld. Advocate General on the basis of his assessment about the suitability of the candidates…. selection or search committee has been constituted for the purpose of selections from the practising advocates for engagement as Law officers by the State of Haryana…

…the State government does not consult the High Court before finalising the list of those being engaged.”

The affidavit also states that,

“it is always open for the State to disengage their services at any time and they are also not amenable to disciplinary proceedings in a case of misconduct. Taking into consideration the above said facts, it is clear that their engagement cannot be held to be a public employment.”

According to Indian Express, an Additional Advocate General is paid a monthly salary of Rs. 1.4 lakh.

Punjab: 176 law officers, AG’s recommendations  

The situation is no different in Punjab which also does not have any defined procedures or statutory rules governing the appointment of law officers. The appointments are made by the State government on a contractual basis after being recommended by the Advocate General. As per Punjab government’s  affidavit, the State government appoints law officers on the basis of the Advocate General’s  recommendations.

As is the case with Haryana, there is no selection or search committee constituted for selecting the law officers and the Advocate General makes his recommendations based on his own assessment and also takes into account the suggestions and recommendations of his colleagues at the Bar. Further, there is no consultation with the High Court while appointing the law officers.

In terms of numbers, Punjab employs a total of 176 law officers: 74 Additional Advocate Generals, 5 Senior Deputy Advocate Generals, 40 Deputy Advocate Generals, 55 Assistant Advocate Generals and 2 Advocates-on-Record.

In the court room 

The case was heard by a Division Bench of Justices TS Thakur and Kurian Joseph.

According to the report in Times of India, one of the petitioners, Pardeep Raparia submitted last Thursday that lawyers running tea stalls, liquor shops, and those who had not argued even a single case were serving as AAG’s.

The Court proceeded to observe that it does not have a problem with the State appointing as many law officers as it wants as long as,

“there is a semblance of scrutiny and objective assessment to make the process transparent and credible. It should send out a message to the public at large that competent advocates too have a chance to get considered for the post of law officers and not only those who enjoy political clout.

The Bench also remarked that if consultation with High Court is mandatory for appointment of public prosecutors for trial courts, the same should be followed for appointment of law officers for High Courts.

According to The Hindu, Justice Thakur, who is presiding the Bench, observed that a government pleader holds the office in public interest and his functions are of a public character. Furthermore, his remunerations are paid from the public exchequer and hence, there should be transparency and objectivity in the appointment of such law officers.

Senior Advocate PP Rao along with Advocate Nikhil Nayyar appeared for the State of Punjab while Additional Advocate General Alok Sangwan along with Advocate Monika Gussain represented Haryana.

Solicitor General Ranjit Kumar served as the Amicus Curiae.

The Court after hearing all the parties reserved its judgment on September 10.