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Supreme Court issues notice to Bar Councils of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Goa over fees collected from lawyers during enrolment

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The Supreme Court on Wednesday issued notice to the Bar Councils of Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Goa over the fees collected by them from the lawyers during the enrolment of Advocates.

The Bench of Chief Justice of India D.Y. Chandrachud, Justice P.S. Narasimha and Justice Manoj Misra passed the orders on a petition filed by the Bar Council of India (BCI), requesting the Apex Court to transfer before itself, various petitions on the matter pending before the High Courts of Kerala, Madras and Bombay.

BCI contended that the various petitions pending before different High Courts substantially dealt with the same questions of law relating to the constitutional validity of fees chargeable at the time of enrolment of Advocates.

Noting that transferring the petitions would save the precious judicial time, the Council contended that the matter could be authoritatively decided by the Apex Court.

The Bar Council of India (BCI) has moved the Supreme Court praying that various petitions pending before the High Courts of Kerala, Madras and Bombay concerning enrolment fees for lawyers, be transferred to the top court [Bar Council of India v Akshai Sivan].

The Bench of Chief Justice of India (CJI) DY Chandrachud, Justices PS Narasimha and Manoj Misra issued notice to the Bar Councils of Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Goa.

“You may issue rules etc. but collecting enrolment fees.. don’t know. We will have to see,” the CJI remarked.

The petitions pending in various High Courts are:

A transfer petition was filed by M/s Ram Sankar & Co. in the wake of a Kerala High Court order passed in June 2022, directing the Bar Council of Kerala (BCK) to collect a reduced enrolment fee of Rs 750 only from law graduates who wished to enrol as advocates, until the BCI laid down a uniform fee structure applicable to all State Bar Councils.

A Single-Judge Bench of the High Court had earlier passed an interim order in February, directing the BCK to provisionally accept enrolment applications by the law graduates on the payment of Rs 750.

The benefit of the February order was limited only to the petitioners in the case who had challenged the BCK’s decision to collect Rs 15,900 as enrolment fees.

BCK had filed an appeal against the interim order before the Division Bench of Chief Justice S.V. Bhatti and Justice Basant Balaji.

On June 12, Division Bench extended the benefit of the Single-Bench order to all law graduates wishing to enrol in the State.

A similar petition challenging the notifications issued by the Bar Council of Maharashtra and Goa (BCMG) enhancing enrolment fees to Rs 15,000, which was made effective from January 2020, is pending before the Bombay High Court.

The BCI had recently apprised the Punjab and Haryana High Court that it would take necessary steps to deal with the issue of exorbitant enrolment fees charged by State Bar Councils.

Earlier this year, the Apex Court had sought responses from State Bar Councils on a petition challenging the non-uniform and exorbitant enrolment fees collected by different State Bar Councils.

While granting liberty to the petitioner to serve a copy of the plea to BCI, the Bench of Chief Justice of India D.Y. Chandrachud, Justice P.S. Narasimha and Justice J.B. Pardiwala had observed that the issue was important.

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