Don’t lower the Bar

Lawlessness by lawyers unacceptable, weed out the fakes

Every fraternity has its black sheep. The Men in Black are no exception. The clashes between law practitioners and law enforcers in New Delhi have prompted the Bar Council of India (BCI) to ask various Bar bodies to identify lawyers who are indulging in hooliganism and bringing the legal institution into disrepute. The profession has also been tainted by the influx of unqualified persons. Aam Aadmi Party MLA Jitendra Singh Tomar had quit as Delhi’s Law Minister in 2015 after he was arrested on the charge of obtaining a fake degree from a Bihar-based law institute. The development had taken place months after the BCI notified the Certificate and Place of Practice (Verification) Rules with the objective of filtering out pseudo-advocates.

In 2017, a verification drive by the Bar Council had revealed that at least one-third of the lawyers on the premises of Indian courts were fake. Later that year, the Law Commission of India had recommended a slew of amendments to the Advocates Act (Regulation of Legal Profession), 1961. The Commission had observed that advocates’ unprofessional conduct, such as going on ‘frequent strikes’ to protest over ‘irrelevant issues’, had reached ‘terrifying proportions’. The proposals, including making lawyers liable to compensate litigants if they struck work, had triggered protests across the country, with the apex Bar body asserting that the ‘utterly regressive’ Bill’s right place was in the dustbin, not in Parliament.

Though the amendments have not seen the light of day amid stiff resistance from the lawyers, it is beyond doubt that the profession needs a self-regulatory mechanism. There should be a uniform qualifying examination, coupled with thorough verification of the person’s documents and credentials, before enrolment as an advocate. The norms for post-enrolment disqualification and re-enrolment must also be made stringent. The chambers should have no place for the likes of Santosh Kumar Singh, an aspiring lawyer and a former IPS officer’s son who is serving life sentence for the 1996 rape-murder of Priyadarshini Mattoo. Unscrupulous elements can’t be allowed to hold the government, the judiciary and the public to ransom.

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