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Kerala High Court amends rules for Senior Advocate designation

The Kerala High Court has made amendments to the High Court of Kerala (Designation of Senior Advocates) Rules, 2018 to comply with the Supreme Court verdict in case lndira Jaising vs Supreme Court of India.

As per the amended rules, a lawyer should be at least 45 years old to be designated a Senior Advocate.

The amended rules said the minimum age bar criteria, however, could be relaxed by the Senior Advocate Designations Committee or the Chief Justice or if a High Court Judge recommended the candidate.

Apart from the minimum age bar, the new rules have also impacted the minimum experience criterion. Previously, only lawyers with at least 10 years of practice as an advocate could become senior advocates.

The eligibility has now been extended to those with 10 years of combined experience as an Advocate and as a District and Sessions Judge or as a judicial member of a tribunal in India, with at least three years of post-retirement standing as an advocate.

The amended rules specify that a lawyer should be primarily working in the High Court to be considered for being designated a senior advocate.

As per the 2018 Rules, the High Court could make any lawyer (without any specification on area of practice) a senior advocate based on skill, reputation or legal expertise.

However, the amended Rules added that the Full Court could suo motu designate any advocate as a senior advocate if it felt that he/she was a lawyer of exceptional quality and eminence and had special expertise in any field of law.

The amendment further specified that the criterion of having High Court practice could be relaxed for advocates having “domain expertise” on account of having practiced before specialised tribunals, after considering the extent of their appearances in the High Court.

The new rules further said that the Full Court could suo motu designate senior advocates, while the earlier Rules only specified processes such as nomination by the Chief Justice or judges or recommendation by senior advocates, apart from submitting applications.

The new rules have introduced a point-based system to evaluate proposals for the designation of senior advocates. This system, as introduced in Rule 11, runs as follows:

Number of years of practice as advocate: 20 points (10 points for 10 years of practice and 1 point each for every additional year of practice, subject to a maximum of 20 points)

Judgments (excluding orders without any principle of law), pro bono work, domain expertise: 50 points

Publication of academic articles, teaching experience in law, guest lectures in law schools and professional institutions connected with law: 5 points

Personality and suitability on the basis of interview: 25 points

The amendment has further specified the members of the Senior Designations Committee as follows:

(a) Chief Justice of the High Court as Chairperson;

(b) Two senior-most judges of the High Court;

(c) Advocate General for Kerala; and

(d) A member of the Bar, nominated by the Chairperson and other members.

The new rules have also amended Rule 13, which is regarding the time period within which proposals for the designation of senior advocates have to be reconsidered.

Under the earlier Rules, if the Full Court rejected a proposal, it could only be reconsidered after two years.

The new rules have clarified that such reconsideration would only be on an application filed following the procedure in place at that time. It further indicated that where proposals were deferred by the Full Court, they could be reconsidered after one year.

As per the new Rule 19, any questions about interpreting or applying any of the Rules would be decided by the Chief Justice, whose decision would be final. The Chief Justice could also give directions to resolve any issues that may arise as needed.

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