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The Delhi High Court has issued notice in a petition challenging the High Court of Delhi Designation of Senior Advocate Rules, 2018 insofar as it calls for a joint proposal by three Senior Advocates to recommend a lawyer for designation as a Senior Advocate.
The Petition seeks directions to permit an advocate who wishes to be designated as a Senior Advocate to directly apply to the Committee for designation of Senior Advocates.
Notice was issued by a Division Bench of Chief Justice Rajendra Menon and Justice Anup J Bhambhani to the Registrar General of the Delhi High Court in a petition by Advocates Nandita Rao and Farrukh Rasheed, filed through Advocate Ruchi Singh.
As per the newly notified The High Court of Delhi Designation of Senior Advocate Rules, 2018, an advocate may be considered by the High Court for being designated as Senior Advocate either by the High Court suo motu, or on a joint proposal by three Senior Advocates having five years of individual standing at the Bar.
It is the petitioner’s case that this rule is alien to the criteria for Senior Designations laid down by the Supreme Court in the Indira Jaising case. In October 2017, a Bench of Justices Ranjan Gogoi, Rohinton Nariman and Navin Sinha had chalked out a uniform, rigorous three-tier process for Senior Designations across all High Courts and the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court mandated the constitution of a Permanent Committee for each court, to be known as Committee for Designation of Senior Advocates, which would process all applications for designation. All applications received by Committee would then be sent to the Secretariat for consideration.
The integrity of the applicant, pro-bono work, reported judgments etc. were also listed as parameters to judge an application. The Supreme Court also mandated a point-based system to examine the suitability of the candidates.
While replacing its existing 2012 Rules on the designation of Senior Advocates with the updated Rules pursuant to the judgment, the Delhi High Court adopted all the guidelines/criteria laid down by the Supreme Court. It, however, also added the rule with respect to a joint proposal by three Senior Advocates, along with a provision for a suo motu consideration by the High Court.
The petitioner has argued that such a condition for a joint proposal is not desirable in terms of the directions of the Supreme Court as it bypasses its objective.
“..the recommendations being given by Senior Advocates are on an arbitrary discretion and not in accordance with the notified point system.”, the Petitioners have claimed.
The Petitioner has further argued that the Rule calling for a joint proposal is in violation of Articles 14,15,16 & 21 of the Constitution of India.
It is contended that the Rule creates a “subjective entry barrier” which has no nexus with the rationale criteria for selection of senior advocates as laid down by the Supreme Court.
“..such a requirement of 3 recommendations creates an artificial and opaque gateway to the process of getting access to professional advancement for young, meritorious and aspiring lawyers..
..the requirement of getting recommendations from existing seniors results in the creating of a monopoly of seniors and has a tendency to create an old boys club. With no restriction on the basis of giving recommendation and no restrictions on recommending chamber juniors and briefing counsels, such recommendations are subjective and promote a coterie rather than merit and excellence.”
It is also contended that such a condition is ultra vires Section 16 of the Advocates Act as the Section does not stipulate any requirement of peer review.
Additionally, the Petitioners seek a direction to the Permanent Committee on Designation of Senior Advocates to invite “meritorious candidates from marginalized castes, genders and religious minorities” in case no applications are received from the section due to “lack of social confidence and networking abilities“.
It is pertinent to note that as per a public notice by the High Court, the deadline for applying for the Senior Advocate designation is May 25.
The matter will be heard next on May 15.