Lawyers Challenge Senior Advocate Designation System, Moves Supreme Court

Mathews J. Nedumpara, a lawyer and the President of the National Lawyers’ Campaign for Judicial Transparency and Reforms, has filed a petition with the Supreme Court challenging the designation of Advocates as “Senior” under Sections 16 and 23(5) of the 1961 Advocates Act. The case was brought up in front of CJI DY Chandrachud today, who has listed it on March 20.

According to Nedumpara, this designation has given rise to a special class of advocates with special privileges that are believed to be reserved only for the relatives of Judges and Senior Attorneys, as well as for politicians, ministers, and other dignitaries, leading to the “monopolisation” of the legal sector. It claims that because of this system, the vast majority of worthy lawyers are treated unfairly by the courts and are instead treated as ordinary plebeians.

“A special class of advocates with special rights, privileges and status not available to ordinary advocates is unconstitutional, being in violation of the requirement of equality under Article 14 and the right to practise any profession under Article 19, as well as the right to life under Article 21,” the plea reads.

The senior designation is compared to that of the Queen’s counsel in 18th-century England in the plea. Further, it is claimed that the impugned provisions have denied justice to the common class of litigants who cannot afford senior counsel or who prefer to hire a senior counsel of their choice in whom they have faith. 

“The conferment of the title of the King/Queen’s counsel is the conferment of a title as a favour to lawyers who represented the Crown. The concept of Queen’s Counsel is totally alien to India. Lawyers representing the cause of their respective clients are entitled to equal and just treatment. However, that almost universally, is not practiced. A designated lawyer, who very often represents a bigger fish, has his way in every possible sense.”

The legal industry is an important sector in any country’s economy and has a major impact on society as a whole. The term “Senior Advocate” is a distinguished title conferred on lawyers in several countries. Designation of Senior advocates are one of the ways that the legal profession is governed in India. Senior advocates are lawyers who have received recognition for their legal expertise.

They are chosen by the Indian Supreme Court and High Courts, and their appointment comes with a number of rights and obligations, such as the ability to present arguments in court against the established system. However, some members of the legal profession have expressed concern in recent years that the system of designating senior advocates has been monopolised by a small group of individuals and has become a closed-door procedure, restricting prospects for other lawyers to earn the designation.

Several advocates have petitioned the Supreme Court to challenge the practise of appointing Senior Advocates in response to these concerns. The petitioners argue that the existing system is arbitrary, discriminatory, and violates the right to equality enshrined in the Constitution. In addition, they claim that the system serves the interests of a few individuals rather than the interests of the whole legal profession, perpetuating a culture of cronyism.

What modifications might be made to the system of appointing Senior Advocates in the future and how the Supreme Court will respond to this issue are yet unknown. It is important to keep in mind that any system modifications might have significant effects on the legal industry and society at large, therefore they must be properly reviewed and discussed by all parties involved.

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