In a setback to the bar, the Supreme Court on Monday said it had put on hold use of its discretionary power to confer the coveted ‘senior advocate’ designation on lawyers as a recognition of their ability, court craft and legal knowledge.
The SC’s April 23, 2015 decision to confer the prized ‘senior’ tag, which allows lawyers to increase their legal fees handsomely, on five out of 14 applicants invited scathing criticism from India’s first woman additional solicitor general Indira Jaising, who filed a petition challenging the procedure for conferring such designations.
When the court issued notices seeking response from the Bar Council of India, the attorney general and the apex court itself, many eminent senior advocates joined Jaising to assist the court in purging the system of anomalies and making the process for ‘senior advocate’ designation a more transparent affair.
Soon, Shillong HC Bar Association too filed a petition challenging the Meghalaya HC’s decision to designate three advocates as ‘seniors’ despite they having no permanent practice in the state.
On Monday, Jaising requested a bench headed by Chief Justice T S Thakur for expeditious hearing on her petition. The bench said it would hear it in the last week of July. “In the meantime, rest assured nothing will happen. No senior designation will be conferred on any advocate till then,” the CJI said.
However, Justice Thakur clarified that the SC’s full court would take up applications by retired HC judges, who have returned to practice, for ‘senior’ designation. This means, no application for ‘senior’ designation from advocates will be entertained by the apex court on the administrative side till the court scrutinizes the process, which is under challenge.
Shillong Bar Association, through senior advocate Meenakshi Arora, had alleged that there was abuse of the discretionary power vested in the HC chief justice in designating the three lawyers, who never had any substantial practice in Meghalaya HC, Gauhati HC nor did they belong to Meghalaya.