No data maintained by the government on kinship of ‘senior advocates’ with Supreme Court, high court judges, says Rijiju in Lok Sabha

In reply to a set of questions asked by Congress MP Manish Tiwari, it was also revealed that a total of 1,043 advocates have been designated as senior advocates by the Supreme Court and various high courts across the country since April 2010.

The Union government last week informed the Parliament that it had no information regarding lawyers who are wives, sons, daughters or relatives of sitting or retired high court and Supreme Court judges, and were designated as senior advocates between April 1, 2010 and March 1, 2023.

No data is maintained regarding the relation of advocate with sitting/retired judges of the high courts and the Supreme Court while designating them as senior advocates,” Union Minister of Law and Justice Kiren Rijiju told the Lok Sabha.

The minister was responding to the following set of questions asked by Member of Parliament Manish Tiwari:

  1. The number of lawyers designated as senior advocates in the Supreme Court  and various high courts (HCs) between April 1, 2010 and March 1, 2023, court-wise and name-wise
  2. The criteria followed by the Supreme Court and the various high courts for designating senior advocates
  3. Whether the government has proposed any changes in the existing criteria taking cognisance of an application filed before the Supreme Court on February 16, 2023 in this regard and if so, details of the changes proposed along with reasons therefor
  4. The details of lawyers who are wives, sons, daughters and relatives of sitting or retired high court and Supreme Court judges designated as senior advocates during the said period, name-wise and court-wise
  5. Whether the government has received representations for amendments in relevant statutes to abolish the category of senior advocates and if so, the follow-up action taken by government thereon?

Of the 25 high courts, the minister provided data on advocates designated as senior advocates at 16 high courts as follows:

S. no. Name of the high court No. of designated senior advocates
1 Madhya Pradesh High Court 37
2 Kerala High Court 37
3 Punjab and Haryana High Court 55
4 Chhattisgarh High Court 12
5 Bombay High Court 100
6 Orissa High Court 42
7 Gujarat High Court 29
8 Karnataka High Court 91
9 Meghalaya High Court 23
10 Madras High Court 103
11 Sikkim High Court 7
12 Gauhati High Court 91
13 Patna High Court 36
14 Allahabad High Court 99
15 Jammu and Kashmir High Court 38
16 Tripura High Court 12

Additionally, a total of 231 advocates had been designated as senior advocates by the Supreme Court since April 2010. In sum, therefore, 1,043 advocates had been designated as senior advocates across the country since April 2010.

On the criteria followed, the minister informed the Lok Sabha that the designation of senior advocates is governed by the guidelines laid down by the Supreme Court in Indira Jaising versus Supreme Court of India & Ors. (2017).The judgement introduced an objective system for assessing advocates based on a 100 point index with an emphasis on domain expertise and pro bono work. The index includes 25 points for interviews or interactions with the applicant advocate.

The minister also referred to a recent application filed by the Union government seeking review of the said judgment. The application, among other things, states that the title of ‘senior advocate’ is bestowed with the honour based on exceptional competence, contribution to development of law, advocacy skills and so on, and the system evolved through the 2017 judgment dilutes the dignity of such an ‘honour’. Further, assigning 40 percent weightage to parameters like ‘publications’ and ‘interviews’ reduces advocacy to a mere job. The honour of being designated is to be based on their performance in court and the respect they command at the Bar, which have no correlation with publications or interviews.

A standard be maintained when the requirement of publication is considered. It also suggests that the sheer volume of the publication should not take precedence over the subject matter of the publications; prerogative to be given to publications relating to law and prerogative to be given to publications relating to law and its ancillary fields. Thus, designation of senior advocates shall be made by evaluating the performance of the applicant in a full court meeting of all honourable judges in each constitutional court and such decision to be taken only resorting to secret ballot and passing the same by simple majority,” the minister said, referring to the government’s application.

On March 16 this year, the Supreme Court reserved its judgment on the multiple applications seeking tweaking of the guidelines laid down in Indira Jaising.

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