The Supreme Court on Wednesday flagged the issue of different fee structures of state bar councils to become a member of the lawyers’ body and asked can there be a “thought process” to bring in uniformity in the enrolment exercise.
A five-judge Constitution bench headed by Justice S K Kaul is considering the questions, including whether a pre-enrollment examination can be prescribed by the Bar Council of India (BCI) under the Advocates Act, 1961.
The apex court observed that different state bar councils do not follow a uniform practice and for example, they have their norms on how somebody becomes a member of the bar council. ”I am told that there are different fee structures and different norms. In some places, the fee structure prescribed is as high as Rs 15,000 to 20,000 to become a member of the bar council. Some young law graduates are expressing concern,” Justice Kaul observed. Senior advocate K V Vishwanathan, who is assisting the court as an amicus curiae, said this is an important aspect.
The bench, also comprising Justices Sanjiv Khanna, A S Oka, Vikram Nath, and J K Maheshwari, reserved its verdict after hearing arguments in the matter.
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During the hearing, the bench observed that to enroll in Delhi, somebody coming from a rural background may have to shell out Rs 20,000 to become a member of the bar council.
The bench asked can there be some uniformity in the process of enrolment.
”Can there be a thought process? Can there be some uniformity in it?” it said.
On the issue of seniority, the top court was told that different bar councils have different rules but seniority is decided as per the date of enrolment. It was told that if the date of enrolment of two advocates is the same, then the date of birth decides the seniority.
During the hearing on Tuesday, the top court had asked whether any study has been done regarding the number of lawyers needed in the country.
The apex court in March 2016 observed that one of the questions that have been raised for determination was whether the BCI is competent to prescribe an examination post-enrollment of an advocate as a condition of eligibility for his continuing to practice at the Bar.
”An incident question that arises is whether pre-enrolment training in terms of the Bar Council Training Rules, 1995 framed under section 24(3)(d) of the Advocates Act, 1961 is within the competence of the Bar Council of India and whether the decision of this court in Sudeer vs Bar Council of India & Anr…..holding pre-enrolment training to be beyond the competence of the Bar Council needs reconsideration,” it had noted in its March 2016 order.
The apex court had said that the questions that fall for determination are of considerable importance affecting the legal profession in general and need to be authoritatively answered by a Constitution bench.
It referred to three questions, including whether pre-enrolment training in terms of Bar Council of India Training Rules, 1995 framed under section 24(3)(d) of the Advocates Act, 1961, could be validly prescribed by the BCI and if so whether the decision in Sudeer vs Bar Council of India & Anr requires reconsideration, for consideration by a five-judge bench.