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The Law Commission’s Bill to amend this Act has led to protests and a sense of grievance among sections of the judiciary  

 ~By Venkatasubramanian

In a normal situation, a Bill proposed by the Law Commission in response to a Supreme Court’s direction in a judgment should lead to discussion and debate among lawyers. Instead, it has triggered widespread protests. However, the Law Commission’s 266th report on the Advocates Act, 1961 (Regulation of Legal Profession) and the Advocates (Amendment) Bill, 2017, proposed by it, appear to have led to a sense of insecurity among lawyers, who apprehend that the very autonomy of the legal profession is now at stake.

The Supreme Court, in Mahipal Singh Rana v State of UP, last year, was hearing the appeal in a matter of criminal contempt for intimidating and threatening a civil judge (senior division) by an advocate. It expressed its concern over unsatisfactory regulatory mechanism governing advocates and requested the Law Commission to submit a report.

The Law Commission, after consulting various stakeholders, has recommended that the Bar Council of India and the state bar councils must have some non-lawyers as members. Secondly, the Commission was astonished to find that strikes by advocates were rampant throughout the length and breadth of the country.

Thus, one of the controversial proposals which the Commission has made is that each Bar Council must constitute one or more disciplinary committees, each of which would consist of five persons. Two of these should be eminent persons from fields other than law. Of the remaining members, two are to be elected by the Council from among its members, and one is to be nominated by the High Court.

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The proposal to constitute a Special Public Grievance Redressal Committee of the Bar Council of India (BCI) is another recommendation. This, according to the Commission, will inquire into any allegation or complaint of corrupt practices or misconduct against any office-bearer or member of the BCI. Pre-enrolment training for one year and continuing legal education for those enrolled by the BCI are other suggestions. More than anything else, it is the complete ban on strikes and boycotts by lawyers that has rattled advocates.

Although the BCI is now protesting against these proposals, the fact is that the Law Commission based these on similar recommendations submitted to it earlier by the Council. This has alienated the Council from the protesting lawyers. Its credibility has suffered a serious erosion. What was perhaps unprecedented, however, was the BCI’s official call for a one-day strike against the Law Commission’s recommendations on March 31.

The Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA), for instance, has opposed specific provisions of the Law Commission’s Bill. These relate to: seeking to impose a fine on lawyers which may extend to Rs 3 lakh in cases of professional misconduct, compensation to be paid by lawyers to litigants up to Rs 5 lakh, empowering non-lawyers to take action against lawyers in the case of alleged misconduct and complete ban on lawyers’ right to protest. The Commission, it appears, has also chosen to define misconduct vaguely by including in it “not working diligently” and even “neglect”.

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