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AOR: Unfolding entire Mechanism of Advocate-on-Record

AOR: Unfolding entire Mechanism of Advocate-on-Record

Article 145(1) of the Indian Constitution empowers the Supreme Court to make rules to regulate the practice and procedure of the Court, including the participation of practitioners. According to Chapter IV of the Supreme Court Rules, 2013, only an Advocate on Record (AOR) is authorized to appear, plead, and address the Court in a case. However, with the Court's permission, an advocate who is not an AOR can also address the Court based on instructions from an AOR. It should be noted that not all advocates practicing in the Supreme Court are qualified as AORs, since some specific conditions must be met to obtain this status.

Responsibilities and Functions of an Advocate on Record in the Supreme Court

"Key Responsibilities of an Advocate on Record (AOR) in India"

  •     Only an Advocate on Record (AOR) in India is authorized to file a Vakalatnama on behalf of a client before the Supreme Court of India.
  • An AOR must instruct any other advocate who wishes to appear and plead in a matter.
  • The Supreme Court sends all notices, orders, and correspondence to the AOR.
  • To file a Special Leave Petition under Article 136 of the Constitution of India, a certificate issued by an AOR is required.
  • An AOR bears personal responsibility for the timely payment of all fees and charges owed to the Court.

"Qualifications for Becoming an Advocate on Record (AOR) in the Supreme Court of India"

Eligibility Criteria for Becoming an Advocate on Record (AOR) in India:

  • The Advocate must be enrolled with a state Bar Council.
  • The Advocate should not hold the designation of Senior Advocate.
  • The Advocate must have a minimum of 4 years of legal practice before commencing a 1-year training under an approved AOR.
  • The Advocate is required to complete a one-year training under an AOR approved by the Supreme Court.
  • After the completion of the training, the Advocate needs to pass an examination conducted by the Supreme Court of India.
  • The AOR must maintain an office within a 16-kilometer radius of the Court in Delhi and commit to employing a registered clerk within one month of being registered as an AOR.
  • A nominal registration fee of Rs. 250 should be paid along with the registration form;

Registration Process for Advocate on Record (AOR) in the Supreme Court of India:

  • One has to Obtain the registration application form from the Supreme Court's website or office.
  • Complete the application form and gather the required documents, including proof of meeting the eligibility criteria, along with a demand draft for the prescribed fee.
  • Submit the filled application form, supporting documents, and the demand draft.
  • Clear a written examination conducted by the Supreme Court, evaluating knowledge of procedural laws, court rules, and the Constitution of India.
  • Undergo training and attend orientation classes organized by the Supreme Court Registry.
  • Upon meeting all eligibility criteria and completing the mandatory training, the candidate will be registered as an Advocate on Record after passing the exam.

Certain Important Questions

Is it obligatory to involve an AOR for filing a Special Leave Petition (SLP) in the Supreme Court of India?

An Advocate on Record (AOR) in the Supreme Court of India is an advocate who has successfully passed the examination conducted by the Supreme Court and is registered as an Advocate on Record with the esteemed court. The role of an Advocate on Record, as stipulated by the Supreme Court Rules of 2013, includes both acting and pleading on behalf of a party in the Supreme Court. According to these rules, only an Advocate on Record is permitted to file appearances and act for parties in the Supreme Court. No other advocate can appear or plead in any matter unless instructed by an Advocate on Record.

What is the difference between an Advocate, Senior Advocate, and Advocate on Record (AOR)?

An Advocate is a legal professional qualified to practice law in all courts and tribunals in India. On the other hand, an AOR undergoes one year of training specifically for practicing before the Supreme Court of India. In contrast, a Senior Advocate is a designation bestowed by a constitutional court.

A "Senior Advocate" is a designation conferred by the Supreme Court of India or any High Court. This title is granted to an advocate, with their consent, if the Court determines that they possess exceptional ability, standing at the Bar, special knowledge, or extensive experience in law deserving of such recognition. In the Supreme Court, a Senior Advocate cannot appear without an Advocate-on-Record, and in other courts or tribunals in India, they must be accompanied by a junior advocate. They are restricted from accepting instructions for drafting pleadings, affidavits, advising on evidence, or engaging in similar drafting work. However, they can consult with a junior advocate for settling such matters. Conveyancing work of any kind is also prohibited, except for consultations with a junior.

(ii) Advocates on Record (AORs) 
Advocates on Record (AORs) have the exclusive privilege of filing all matters and documents before the Supreme Court of India. They are authorized to file appearances and act on behalf of parties in the Supreme Court.

Other Advocates are those whose names are registered on the roll of any State Bar Council as per the Advocates Act, 1961. They have the right to appear and argue on behalf of a party in any court or tribunal. However, in the Supreme Court, they do not have the privilege to file documents or matters directly before the Court.

Eligibility of Law Firms for AOR Registration in India?

Law firms in India are not eligible for registration as Advocates on Record (AORs). However, individual partners within a law firm can be registered as AORs. Some of the firms in India, are among the limited number of firms with all partners registered as AORs with the Supreme Court of India. This enables the firm to represent clients across lower courts as well as the Apex Court.

Can Advocates, apart from AORs, participate in handling a case for their clients?

A client is allowed to engage a briefing Counsel who has previously dealt with the case in lower courts. The briefing Counsel can assist the Advocate on Record (AOR) in various tasks, including drafting, gathering all necessary case documents and certified copies, as well as providing a comprehensive overview of the case facts. However, it is important to note that the briefing lawyer cannot independently file or defend a case in the Supreme Court or advocate on behalf of the client without the involvement of the AOR.

Does the provisions and rules made by the Supreme Court in connection with the Advocate on Record contradict with Section 30 of the Advocates Act?

No, the provisions and rules made by the Supreme Court regarding the Advocate on Record do not contradict Section 30 of the Advocates Act. Section 30 of the Advocates Act, 1961 states that an advocate whose name is on the roll of the State Bar Council can practice in any court of law, including the Supreme Court of India. Additionally, Section 52 of the same act clarifies that any provisions in the Advocates Act shall not affect the power of the Supreme Court to make rules under Article 145(1). It further specifies that the Supreme Court has the authority to determine the conditions under which a senior advocate can appear before them. Therefore, there is no contradiction between the provisions of the Advocates Act and the rules established by the Supreme Court.

When can an Advocate on Record’s name be struck off from the register of advocate on record?

  • If an advocate on record fails to comply with the requirement of having an office or registered clerk, a notice is issued to them. They are asked to provide a reason why their name should not be removed from the register. This process takes place before the Chamber Judge.
  • If the Judge determines that the advocate's name should be struck off, it is carried out, and from that day onwards, the advocate on record is no longer recognized as such.
  • When an advocate on record's name is removed from the roll of the State Bar Council, unless ordered otherwise by the court, their name is also removed from the register of advocates on record. Consequently, they cease to be an advocate on record starting from the day of their removal from the State Bar Council's roll.
  • If the court receives a complaint against an advocate on record and finds them guilty of misconduct or conduct unbecoming of an advocate on record, their name will be permanently removed from the register of advocates on record. Alternatively, the court may prescribe a specific duration for the removal. In either case, the advocate on record ceases to hold that status from the day the order is passed.

Some Important Decisions of the Supreme Court

  • Lily Isabel Thomas Versus Unknown, AIR 1964 SC855[2]

This was the first case filed in the Supreme Court challenging the Advocate on Record system.

Lily Isabel Thomas filed a petition for declaration of rule 16(1) of the Supreme Court Rule, 1962 as an ultra virus of this court and she is entitled to practice as an advocate on record in this court without complying with the requirements for the same. An argument was made that the right to practice includes the right to plead as well as the right to act but rule 17 of the Supreme Court Rules, 1962 only restricts the right to act and not the right to plead.

The Supreme Court held that section 52 of the Advocates Act, 1961 saves the Supreme court's power to make rules and states that it is the discretion of the court to determine which persons can act on behalf of any party.

Hence the said provision is not ultra virus the court. Article 145(1) was also discussed at length to see whether the court has the power to make such rules, which was considered affirmative. Therefore, the Petition was rejected and dismissed.

  • Balraj Singh Malik v. Supreme Court of India through its Registrar General, W.P.(C) 8327 OF 2011

Mr. Balraj Singh Malik, who was not an advocate on record, filed a writ petition before the Delhi High Court challenging the validity of rules 2, 4, and 6(b) of Order IV of the Supreme Court Rules, 1966. The petitioner sought to declare these rules as null and void, aiming to prohibit the classification of advocates into "advocates on record" and "non-advocates on record."

It was contended by the petitioner that Section 30 of the Advocates Act, 1961 grants advocates the right to practice in the Supreme Court, while rules 2, 4, and 6(b) of the Supreme Court Rules restrict that right. The respondent, on the other hand, referred to Section 52 of the Advocates Act, 1961, which preserves the Supreme Court's power to make rules concerning court practices.

The bench comprising Chief Justice A.K. Sikri and Justice Rajiv Sahai Endlaw heard the arguments presented by both parties. and upheld the rule of "Advocate on Record" and clarified that Section 30 of the Advocates Act, 1961 should be read in conjunction with Section 52 of the same act. The rule of "Advocate on Record" was not created with discriminatory intent, but rather to ensure that advocates practicing before the Supreme Court possess the prescribed qualifications and eligibility criteria, thus enhancing the functioning of the court.

Considering the Supreme Court as the final recourse, it was deemed beneficial for the public to have advocates well-versed in the processes, methods, and knowledge of the Supreme Court.

Furthermore, the court held that an Advocate on Record can engage another advocate, irrespective of seniority, enabling every advocate to argue with the authorization of the Advocate on Record before the Supreme Court.

The role of an Advocate on Record encompasses various responsibilities, which are addressed through the examination process for becoming an advocate on record. This examination is not a mere formality but serves an objective in preparing advocates for their responsibilities.

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