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Supreme Court to continue hearing on plea challenging the process of secret voting over giving seniority to Advocates

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The Supreme Court will continue its hearing on a plea seeking to declare the process adopted by some High Courts to confer ‘senior designations’ to Advocates through the process of secret voting of the full court as ‘arbitrary and discriminatory’.

On a plea from lawyer Amar Vivek Aggarwal, who had alleged non-adherence to the rules in the process, the Court had sought the records from Punjab and Haryana High Court, which had designated 19 lawyers as senior advocates.

A three-judge bench of Justices UU Lalit, S Ravindra Bhat and PS Narasimha will hear the matter.

The Court will also hear an application filed by Senior Advocate Indira Jaising seeking a clarification on whether voting by secret ballot on each and every potential Senior designation is arbitrary, discriminatory and violative of its earlier judgment in Indira Jaising v. Supreme Court of India.

“Recently, the High Courts of Delhi and of Punjab and Haryana have designated advocates as senior advocates based on their respective rules. In these recent designations, the Applicant has noticed that notwithstanding the judgment of this Hon’ble Court, even after marks are assigned to a candidate by the Committee set up by the rules to scrutinize the applications and assign marks, each and every candidate is put to vote by the full court. Consequently, even those who obtain the cut-off marks decided upon by the High Court are not getting designated if they do not obtain the required number of votes“, the application filed by Jaising read.

The application has sought directions; firstly clarify that “voting” by secret ballot on each and every candidate is arbitrary, discriminatory and contrary to the judgment of the Hon’ble Court dated 12.10.2017 in writ petition (C) No. 454 of 2015 with Nos. 33 and 819 of 2016. Secondly, to decide and clarify what should be the uniform minimum number of marks to be obtained by a candidate to be designated as a senior advocate. Thirdly, to direct that advertisements inviting applications are issued periodically twice a year as laid down by the Hon’ble Court in its judgment dated 12.10.2017 in writ petition (C) No. 454 of 2015 with Nos. 33 and 819 of 2016.

In its judgment passed in October, 2017, the Apex Court had laid down norms/guidelines which would govern the exercise of designation of Senior Advocates by the Supreme Court and all High Courts in the country.

I. All matters relating to designation of Senior Advocates in the Supreme Court of India 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”;

II. The Permanent Committee will be

headed by the Hon’ble the Chief Justice of India and consist of two senior-most Judges of the Supreme Court of India (or High Court(s), as may be); the learned Attorney General for India (Advocate General of the State in case of a High Court) will be a Member of the Permanent Committee. The above four Members of the Permanent Committee will nominate another Member of the Bar to be the fifth Member of the Permanent Committee;

III. The said Committee shall have a permanent Secretariat the composition of which will be decided by the Chief Justice of India or the Chief Justices of the High Courts, as may be, in consultation with the other Members of the Permanent Committee;

IV. All applications including written proposals by the Hon’ble Judges will be submitted to the Secretariat. On receipt of such applications or proposals from Hon’ble Judges, the Secretariat will compile the 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 judgments in which the concerned Advocate(s) had appeared; the number of such judgments for the last five years. The source(s) from which information/data will be sought and collected by the Secretariat will be as decided by the Permanent Committee;

V. 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;

VI. After the data-base in terms of the above is compiled and all such information as may be specifically directed by the Permanent Committee to be obtained in respect of any particular candidate is collected, the Secretariat shall put up the case before the Permanent Committee for scrutiny;

VII. 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.

VIII. All the names that are listed before the Permanent Committee/cleared by the Permanent Committee will go to the Full Court.

IX. 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.

X. All cases that have not been favourably considered by the Full Court may be

reviewed/reconsidered expiry of a period of two years following the manner indicated above as if the proposal is being considered afresh;

XI. In the event a Senior Advocate is guilty of conduct which according to the Full Court disentitles the Senior Advocate concerned to continue to be worthy of the designation the Full Court may review its decision to designate the concerned person and recall the same.

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