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 SC deliberates on role and accountability of Advocates-on-Record

SC deliberates on role and accountability of Advocates-on-Record

In a recent session at the Supreme Court, Senior Advocate Mahalakshmi Pavani informed the court that in her earlier years, she faced obstacles and discouragement when attempting the Advocates-on-Record examination. She hinted that she was dissuaded, with concerns that upon becoming an AoR, her role might be reduced to that of a mere 'rubber stamp' or a 'dignified clerk,' limited to the formalities of signing petitions to be filed in the Apex Court.

The discussion unfolded during the examination of a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by Advocate-on-Record Naresh Kumar. The PIL sought to declare Articles 20 and 22 of the Constitution of India, 1950, as ultra vires Part III of the Constitution of India, 1950, citing violation of Articles 14, 15, 19, and 21. The Court, expressing astonishment, directed the appearance of both the 'main counsel' and the 'Advocate-on-Record' to explain how such a petition could have been filed.

The bench, led by Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Justice Sudhanshu Dhulia, expressed concern over the possibility of AoRs merely signing petitions without a thorough examination of their contents. The Court expressed concern, stating, "We are troubled by the fact that a recognized Advocate-on-Record of this Court could have signed such a petition. On our query, he says he signed it in 'good faith.' This implies a practice of filing petitions without examining the contents—drafted by somebody else, filed by somebody else, and argued by a third person." In response to this, Advocate Gaurav Agrawal was appointed to assist in devising a system for Advocate-on-Record that prevents them from becoming merely a signing or forwarding authority.

In the recent proceedings, Senior Advocate S. Muralidhar represented the Advocates-on-Record Association, Senior Advocate Adish Aggarwala represented the Supreme Court Bar Association, and Senior Advocates Mahalakshmi Pavani and Vikas Singh appeared for the Advocate-on-Record Naresh Kumar. During the hearing, the Court examined the suggestion presented by Advocate Gaurav Agrawal and expressed that the recommendations did not adequately address the Court's concerns. Agrawal's proposal stated, "The Advocate on Record, who has filed the matter, is responsible for the pleadings and documents filed. However, there are a large number of advocates practicing before this Hon'ble Court, who are not Advocates on Record. Traditionally, they have filed matters through AORs. As colleagues, most AORs file SLPs/Writ Petitions, TPs on behalf of their colleagues. It may be perhaps neither advisable nor at times feasible for AORs to sit in judgment over drafts prepared by other advocates."

Justice Kaul responded by stating, "Appearance is given by lawyers who have never been in Court, and with due respect, even the senior counsel's appearance is given. But my Court-Master has instructions not to mark a Senior Counsel's appearance unless he is there. The Senior must be here for his presence to be marked." In response to the Court's remark, Senior Advocate Pavani shared her personal experience, stating, "I want to say it, milords, from my personal experience. I was discouraged from writing the Advocates-on-Record exam by saying that you will either be a rubber stamp or a glorified clerk. I still took the exam, I cleared the exam and missed the First rank with just 2 marks, but I never filed for anybody, I filed only my client's case. I am representing this AoR who has put in 24 years of service."

Justice Kaul concurred, expressing agreement. He acknowledged the existence of experienced Advocates-on-Record (AoRs) who have responsibly practiced for many years, emphasizing that responsible practice is not exclusive to this category. He emphasized a desire for the legal system to enhance itself, clarifying that the intention is not to penalize lawyers but to foster improvement.

The court issued the following directive: "After considering the submissions of the Advocates-on-Record Association and the points raised by Muralidhar, the learned Senior Counsel, regarding Order IV Rule 10 along with its explanation, noting that sub-clauses b and c of the explanation are yet to be notified, the court examined the recommendations presented by Mr. Gaurav Agarwal, the appointed amicus curiae. The court conveyed its reservations about accepting the report as the primary concern is ensuring that Advocates-on-Record (AoRs) fulfill their designated duties without undue complexity or additional burdens on others. The amicus curiae was instructed to apply his own judgment while consulting with the elected committee of the AoR association or any other relevant parties. Mr. Muralidhar suggested the formulation of norms based on best practices observed in other contexts, a proposal deemed worthy of consideration."

The court scheduled a further hearing on December 13, 2023.

Case: P.K. Subramanian v. The Secretary Department Of Law And Justice & Anr,

W.P.(C) No. 001275 - / 2023  Registered on 08-11-2023, Diary No.- 35468 - 2023.

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