Senior advocate designation: Supreme Court favours one mark each for every year of practice from 10 to 20 years

THE Supreme Court, on Wednesday, ordered that one mark each should be allotted by the High Courts for every year of practice between 10 years to 20 years to those who have applied for the senior designation.  The Solicitor General[SG] Tushar Mehta, for the Union Government, however, sought to argue that the full court must have the final say on the senior designation and the same cannot be the subject matter of interviews. The order was passed by a bench comprising Justices U.U. Lalit, S. Ravindra Bhat and P.S. Narasimha on an application moved by senior advocate Indira Jaising seeking clarification of the 2017 judgment passed in her case in which it was held that an advocate would be awarded 10 points for 10-20 years of practice and 20 points for the practice beyond 20 years.

The bench directed the SG to file the Government’s response with regard to submissions he made that the full court must have the final say in the matter. Justice Lalit remarked that what Mehta contended would go far beyond the 2017 judgment which introduced the creation of an objective system for assessing advocates based on a 100 Points Index.

Jaising submitted that every lawyer aspiring for senior designation with between 10 and 19 years of practice experience was getting the same marks. She suggested that every year of service/practice should be rewarded with one mark, to which the Court agreed. Appearing for the Supreme Court registry, senior advocate Madhavi Divan, said that it had no objection to the prayer regarding the award of one mark each for the year of practice between 10-20 years. However, Justice Bhat questioned the locus of the registry and said the judgment passed in 2017 is a law declared by the court, and it would not be correct to allow the registry of the courts to make submissions. Justice Lalit joined Justice Bhat and said it is not a purely administrative issue.

The bench said it would consider on Thursday next week the remaining prayers made by Jaising, namely against the frequent resort to a secret ballot while designating senior advocates and to provide for cut-off marks in the notice calling upon prospective applicants to apply for designation as senior advocates. Jaising contended that what the SG  was asking for was not an issue before the Court. She added that the Ministry of Law and Justice was party to her petition in 2017 in which the main judgment prescribing objective criteria was passed. The Union Government never filed any reply to the petitioner then, Jaising added.  Justice Lalit, however, said it was alright since people learn from past experiences.

In 2017, on a petition by Jaising, the Supreme Court laid down objective criteria to designate the senior advocates. This judgement introduced the creation of an objective system for assessing advocates based on a 100 Points Index. The index allocates 40 points to the proposition of law advanced, expertise and pro bono work, 15 points to published articles, and 25 points for interviews or interaction with the applicant advocate. This assessment is to be done by the Permanent Committee of the court, which is headed by the Chief Justice of India and consists of the two next senior-most Judges of the Supreme Court of India. In the case of High Courts, the committee is headed by the Chief Justice, and includes two next senior-most Judges of the High Court concerned; the Attorney General for India, or Advocate General of the State in case of a High Court, is also to be a member of the Committee. The above four Members of the Committee nominate another Member of the Bar to be the fifth member of the Permanent Committee.

On February 25 this year, the Supreme Court registry issued a notice inviting applications for advocates seeking senior designation. The last such process was completed in 2019 following the guidelines laid down in 2017.

Click here to read the order.

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