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The Supreme Court today laid down guidelines for itself and 24 High Courts to govern the exercise of designating lawyers as seniors and ordered setting up of a committee headed by the Chief Justice of India, which would be assisted by a secretariat. A bench headed by Justice Ranjan Gogoi, however, rejected the plea that section 16 of the 1961 Advocates Act, which empowers the apex court or a High Court to designate senior advocates, should be held as unconstitutional. "It is not an uncontrolled, unguided, uncanalised power, though in a given case its exercise may partake such a character.
However, the possibility of misuse cannot be a ground for holding a provision of the Statute to be constitutionally fragile... "Possible consequences arising from a wrong/improper exercise of power cannot be a ground to invalidate the provisions of Section 16 of the Act," the bench, which also comprised Justices R F Nariman and Navin Sinha, said. Disposing four petitions including one filed by senior advocate Indira Jaising, the bench, in its 112-page judgement, laid down as many as 11 guidelines to effectively deal with the process of designating lawyers as seniors. "All matters relating to designation of senior advocates in the Supreme Court and in all the High Courts of the country shall be dealt with by a Permanent Committee to be known as 'Committee for Designation of Senior Advocates'," it said. The panel will be headed by the CJI and consist of two senior-most Judges of the apex court or "High Court(s), as may be," and the Attorney General or the Advocate General of a state in case of a High Court will be its member, it said. On giving the Bar representation, it said "the four Members of the Permanent Committee will nominate another Member of the Bar to be the fifth Member of the Permanent Committee". The committee shall have a permanent Secretariat, the composition of which will be decided by the CJI or "the Chief Justices of the High Courts, as may be, in consultation with the other Members of the Permanent Committee", it said. The pleas on designating a lawyer as senior would be sent to the secretariat which would compile relevant data and information with regard to "the reputation, conduct, integrity of the Advocate(s) concerned including his/her participation in pro-bono work; reported judgements in which the concerned Advocate(s) had appeared; the number of such judgements for the last five years," it said. It said the secretariat would collect the data and their sources for perusal and decision by the CJI-led committee. "The Secretariat will publish the proposal of designation of a particular Advocate in the official website of the concerned Court inviting the suggestions/views of other stakeholders in the proposed designation," it said. After compilation of data-base, the information may be sent to the permanent committee for scrutiny, it said, adding "the permanent committee will examine each case in the light of the data provided by the secretariat of the permanent committee; interview the concerned advocate; and make its overall assessment on the basis of a point-based format". The apex court said that 100 points would be awarded under different heads to the lawyers seeking consideration for being designated as seniors. Maximum of 20 points would be earmarked for the years spent in the legal profession, it said, adding that 40 points would be given for aspects such as judgements to which the lawyer has been a part, pro-bono litigations, domain of expertise in branches of law. Publications by the Applicant Advocate would be earmarked 15 points, while the test of personality and suitability on the basis of interview or interaction would have 25 points. All the names listed before the Permanent Committee or cleared by it, will go to the Full Court comprising all judges of concerned High Courts or the apex court for approval, it said. "Voting by secret ballot will not normally be resorted to by the Full Court, except when unavoidable. In the event of resort to secret ballot, decisions will be carried by a majority of the Judges who have chosen to exercise their preference/choice," it said. If a lawyer, whose bid to become a senior has been rejected, can be considered for the same after expiry of two years of such rejection. If a senior lawyer is found to be guilty of misconduct, "the Full Court may review its decision to designate the concerned person and recall the same," it said. The bench said the guidelines may not be exhaustive and "may require reconsideration in the light of the experience to be gained over a period of time.
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