Supreme Court: With the intent to make the exercise of senior designation more objective, fair and transparent so as to give full effect to consideration of merit and ability, standing at the bar and specialized knowledge or exposure in any field of law, the 3-judge bench of Ranjan Gogoi, RF Nariman and Navin Sinha, JJ laid down elaborate guidelines for the system of designation of Senior Advocates in the Supreme Court as well as all the High Courts of India.

The Court said:

“The sole yardstick by which we propose to introduce a set of guidelines to govern the matter is the need for maximum objectivity in the process so as to ensure that it is only and only the most deserving and the very best who would be bestowed the honour and dignity. The credentials of every advocate who seeks to be designated as a Senior Advocate or whom the Full Court suo motu decides to confer the honour must be subject to an utmost strict process of scrutiny leaving no scope for any doubt or dissatisfaction in the matter.”

Committee for Designation of Senior Advocates

All matters relating to designation of Senior Advocates in the Supreme Court and all the High Courts of the country shall be dealt with by a Permanent Committee to be known as “Committee for Designation of Senior Advocates” headed by the Hon’ble the Chief Justice of India and consisting of two senior-most Judges of the Supreme Court of India (or High Court(s), as the case may be) and the learned Attorney General for India (Advocate General of the State in case of a High Court). The above four Members of the Permanent Committee will nominate another Member of the Bar to be the fifth Member of the Permanent Committee.

Permanent Secretariat

The said Committee shall have a permanent Secretariat the composition of which will be decided by the Chief Justice of India or the Chief Justices of the High Courts, as may be, in consultation with the other Members of the Permanent Committee. The Permanent Secretariat will:

  • Compile relevant information regarding the advocate
  • Publish the proposal of designation of a particular Advocate in the official website of the concerned Court inviting the suggestions/views of other stakeholders in the proposed designation
  • Put up the case before the Permanent Committee

Criterion for designation

The reputation, conduct, integrity of the Advocate(s) concerned including his/her participation in pro-bono work; reported judgments in which the concerned Advocate(s) had appeared; the number of such judgments for the last five years, will be considered for designating an advocate as a Senior Advocate.

Process of designation

  • The point based assessment by the Permanent Committee will be made by:
    • examining each case in the light of the data provided by the Secretariat of the Permanent Committee;
    • interviewing the concerned Advocate.
  • All the names that are listed before the Permanent Committee/cleared by the Permanent Committee will go to the Full Court.
  • Voting by secret ballot will not normally be resorted to by the Full Court except when unavoidable. In the event of resort to secret ballot decisions will be carried by a majority of the Judges who have chosen to exercise their preference/choice.

Review of application

All cases that have not been favourably considered by the Full Court may be reviewed/reconsidered after expiry of a period of two years following the manner indicated above as if the proposal is being considered afresh;

Recall of Designation

In the event a Senior Advocate is guilty of conduct which according to the Full Court disentitles the Senior Advocate concerned to continue to be worthy of the designation the Full Court may review its decision to designate the concerned person and recall the same.

The present order of the Court is an outcome of the petition filed by Senior Advocate Indira Jaising, who had also served as Additional Solicitor General for the Union of India. In the petition she contended that the present system of designation of Senior Advocates in the Supreme Court of India was flawed and the system needed to be rectified and acceptable parameters laid down. [Indira Jaising v. Supreme Court of India, 2017 SCC OnLine SC 1223, decided on 12.10.2017]

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