Madras High Court: Expressing that, Legal profession is a noble profession, and it is the lawyer, who plays a predominant role in securing every citizen life and personal liberty fundamental and statutory rights ensured by the Constitution, M. Govindaraj, J., observed that, Law Officers perform their duties without profit motive and with a service mentality for a nominal fee as compared to their lucrative private practice.
High Court addressed a case of a highly placed Law Officer of the State Government, in order to defend the honour and glory of the noble profession, against the unilateral and arbitrary decision taken by a fickle minded officer, contrary to the specific instructions given by the Chief Secretary, State Government.
The Government need to provide budgetary allocation to Departments, which are very vital for a welfare state to maintain peace and harmony. Thus, the honorarium made to the services of the Law Officers of the State to defend its actions is also a very important, essential and unavoidable expenditure.
In the instant matter, oblivious of the facts and pivotal role played by the respectable and highly placed Law Officer on request, the impugned order of restricting the fee, came to be passed under the pretext of saving expenditure to the Government.
Bench remarked that,
“Once you accept to defend the Government or its agencies, you cannot complain of the poor and nominal fee paid by them, for, the Government is for the people and it is not destined to make profit, but to serve the people.”
“…not only the Government, but also the Law Officers perform their duties without profit motive and with a service mentality for a nominal fee as compared to their lucrative private practice, more particularly the top law officers.”
With regard to the legal profession being a noble profession, the Court expressed that, when a lawyer for an individual client fight for the life and liberty of his client, the Law Officers of the State are cast with onerous responsibilities to strike a balance of individual and fellow citizens rights along with State, its policies, welfare schemes, etc.
Additional Advocate General, J. Ravindran, sitting in an unenviable position in a matter directly touching upon his own office, contested against the petitioner, which shows the Law Officers render their services above self against his own clan, raised serious concerns of impleading Chief Secretary as a party respondent in may petitions unmindful od the fact as to whether the issue pertains to the Chief Secretary or not?
The Court stated that, impleading of Chief Secretary in all the writ petitions, in which, he is not at all answering respondent is causing great hardship. Therefore, the Court directed the Registry in respect of arrayal of unnecessary parties, particularly the Chief Secretary to the Government.
In Court’s opinion, the professional fee paid to the Law Officers will not commensurate to the amount of service rendered, their dedication, amount of time spent, mental and physical labour, age and expertise and their sacrifice of lucrative private practice.
The impugned e-mail challenged in the present petition reflect the same mentality of an individual officer treating the highly placed Law Officer on par with him and unable to digest the special fee paid to him contrary to the concerted decision taken by the High-Level Committee.
The general outlook and attitude of a government servant happens to be of a paid servant.
Further, the Court also observed that,
Lawyers have every right to decline the brief, if his services and his dignity is not respected. In order to do social justice or economic justice an Advocate may accept higher fee from an affluent client and lesser or no fees from a poor or downtrodden litigant.
Court reiterated the instructions issued by the Chief Secretary to Government that “Generally, the special fees claimed by the Advocate General are not to be questioned.” but in the instant writ petition, it was questioned by the respondent contrary to the instructions which always bind on him.
Lastly, the Bench stating that the Rulers may change, but the Government is continuously running machinery and its servants shall not shift their loyalty to Government to please the Rulers set aside the impugned order.
While concluding the matter and considering the plight of the Law Officers, the following directions were issued:
(a)The Law Officers shall be given due respect for their dedication in defending the Government.
(b)In particular, the highest Law Officers, viz., Advocate General and Additional Advocate General, who are required in emergent situation to appear before the Court to defend the interest of the State, the officials shall not insist on the Government Order requesting him to appear and also shall not deny the claim of fee or special fee whatsoever claimed by them in terms of the instructions issued by the Chief Secretary to Government.
(c) The Officials shall be prompt in getting legal opinion in time, giving instructions to the Law Officers in time, if any appeal is preferred, it shall be intimated on time, without any delay. The Government is also equally a litigant which cannot expect a special treatment in condonation of delay matters.
(d) Whenever they seek instructions, the Government shall ensure that its Officials give top priority and produce the information, and records sought by them.
(e) The Law Officer shall be provided with the initial fees and after completion of the litigation the final fee. The said fee shall be paid immediately and it shall not be unduly delayed.
(f) The fee structure of the Law Officers shall be revised once in three years corresponding to the Price Index.
(g)If the bill is submitted by a Law Officer, it shall be settled at once, if not within a reasonable period that is to say to a maximum of two months.
(h) Further, depending on the sensitivity or importance of the case, the fee structure of a private Lawyer will raise. Whereas, the Law Officer of the lower rank will get the same fixed fees and to be particular, in batch matters, they would get fee only for the main matter and for the remaining connected matters, a fixed minimum fee is paid. In such a situation, the Government shall consider immediate payment of fee and treat it is as honorarium to the Law Officers for the enormous efforts and time put in by them.
(i) The Government at any cost shall not reduce the fee than one was fixed at the time of appointing a Law Officer, more particularly, due to the change of regime. As stated earlier, the Government is continuing machinery and defending the case of the Government and of the people is a continuing affair and therefore, the Law Officer shall not be slighted down and they shall be paid with utmost respect which they deserve for the meritorious efforts put by them.
[S. Ramasamy v. State of Tamil Nadu, 2022 SCC OnLine Mad 1519, decided on 15-2-2022]
Advocates before the Court:
For Petitioner :
Mr. G. Rajkumar
For Respondents :
Mr. J. Ravindran
Additional Advocate General Assisted by Mr. Tippu Sultan Government Advocate