Grave concern expressed over the invasion of legal profession by criminal elements

Madras High Court: Expressing deep concern over the invasion by criminal elements in the legal profession by exploiting the loopholes in S. 24 of Advocates’ Act, 1961, the bench of K. Kirubakaran, J., gave the following directions to the Government and Bar Council of India (BCI)-

·         The BCI must abolish the 3-year law degree course and retain the 5-year degree course. Furthermore, the BCI is to reduce the number of seats in law colleges and the number of law colleges as well.  

·    Bar Council of India shall not conduct the next Bar Council election in 2016, without prescribing minimum qualification like “20 years standing in the Bar or a senior counsel, who does not have any criminal background”.

·         The Government must make suitable amendments in S. 24A so as to prevent the entry of persons with criminal antecedents in the legal profession. The Union of India must also consider to entrust the functions of the BCI to an expert body, headed by a retired Supreme Court Judge permanently or till The Advocates’ Act and the Bar Council Rules are revised and amended, as the BCI has so far failed to recruit competent persons as its members, thereby making the Council inefficient. 

·       The BCI must direct the State Bar Councils to compulsorily verify the antecedents of law students from their native place. Further the BCI must direct all the law colleges to obtain police verification certificates of the candidates who are to be admitted to the law degree course.

The petitioners in the present case through Peter Ramesh Kumar argued that persons with criminal background exploit the legislative loopholes to obtain degrees thereby undermining the sanctity of the profession. Assisting the Court, Amicus Curiae K.K. Ramakrishnan stated that the word ‘person’ as used in S. 24 of the Advocates Act needs revision keeping in mind the present degradation of the profession.    

The Court explicitly stated that “competent advocates with integrity, high moral values, ethics and commitment to the society are the requirements of the Constitution”. The Court even raised a question mark over the competency of the BCI in dealing with the menace. Terming the criminalisation of legal profession as ‘wildfire destroying the prestige of the profession’, the Court expressed its hope that this noble profession sustains and comes back stronger to repel and prevent the criminal elements from taking over, issuing a caution that the “Neethi Devathai” (Goddess of Justice) might not be considerate enough to forgive the stake holder of justice delivery system. [S.M. Anantha Murugan v. The Chairman, BCI, 2015 SCC OnLine Mad 8636, decided on 06-10-2015]

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