Delhi High Court

Delhi High Court: In a petition filed by Ashish Rastogi (petitioner) seeking setting aside of the final result notice of the Delhi Higher Judicial Services Examination, 2022 (‘impugned notice') dated 10-11-2022, only insofar as it rejects the candidature of the petitioner for appointment to the Delhi Higher Judicial Services (‘DHJS') for not being covered under the expression “continuously practicing advocate for not less than 7 years preceding receipt of applications” which is a mandatory qualification for selection to the DHJS. A division bench of Najmi Waziri and Vikas Mahajan, JJ., set aside the rejection order and directed to modify the impugned result notice by including the petitioner at Serial No. 17 or higher, if it is so requisite, in the list of successful candidates as he has scored 623.5 marks, which are more than the 621.50 marks scored by the candidate currently shown at Serial No. 17.

The petitioner has been working as a Law Officer with the Steel Authority of India (‘SAIL') since 2010. He earned a law degree from NALSAR, Hyderabad and got enrolled with the Bar Council of Uttar Pradesh on 23-05-2010. SAIL issued him a letter of appointment and in July 2010, he started working as Jr. Manager (Law) and was awarded a ‘Certificate of Practice' on 19-03-2011 by the Bar Council of India.

The petitioner cleared the DHJS Preliminary Examination as well as the Main Examination (Written), 2022, and was shortlisted for the viva-voce interview. The petitioner, in his online application, had fully disclosed his employment status with SAIL and had complied with the requisite instructions. Logically, he ought to have been ranked 17th in the list of meritorious candidates instead, his candidature was rejected for the reason “The candidates do not have a continuous practice of 7 years during the period immediately preceding the last date of applications as required under Rule 9(2) of DHJS Rules, 1970 and, therefore, their candidatures have been rejected.”

The Court noted that on perusal of the documents placed on record shows that the Bar Council of Uttar Pradesh has taken a conscious decision with reference to its Enrolment Rules, after considering the full disclosure by the petitioner that he was in full-time employment of SAIL and that he was appearing before various courts, to certify the petitioner as a practicing advocate enrolled with it.

The Court further noted that on perusal of the Corporate Office Manual of stating the variety of duties performed by SAIL's Law Officer, it is evident that the predominant function of a Law Officer of SAIL is to act and/or plead and perform functions which any other advocate would perform in relation to court cases including drafting of contracts and pleadings, filing of cases/pleadings and monitoring their progress, attending conferences with lawyers including Senior Advocates, rendering legal opinions etc. In effect his duties and functions with SAIL, encompassed all that a lawyer would do in his normal course of practice of law.

Thus, the Court held that the petitioner fulfills the requirement of “continuously practicing as an advocate for not less than 7 years on the last date of receipt of applications”, therefore, he shall be considered as a successful candidate for appointment.

[Ashish Rastogi v. High Court of Delhi, 2023 SCC OnLine Del 1626, decided on 17-03-2023]

Advocates who appeared in this case :

Mr Arvind Nigam, Senior Advocate with Mr. Samrat Nigam, Mr. Tapan Masta, Mr. Abhir Datt, Mr. Rupin Bahl, Mr. Vaibhav Tomar, Mr. Rajat Sehgal, Mr. Angad Mehta, Mr. Abhimanyu Walia, Mr. Abhay Raj Verma, Mr. Paranjay Chopra, Mr. Aditya Bhardwaj, Mr. Yuvraj Singh, Mr. Bhanu Sanoriya, Ms. Vidhi Jain, Mr. Arjun Rekhi, Mr. Debayan Gangopadhyay, Mr. Anand Mehta, Mr. Karambir Singh, Mr. Samyak Jain, Ms. Pragya Puri and Ms. Vandana Anand, Advocates for petitioner

Mr. Rajshekhar Rao, Senior Advocate with Ms. Vibha Mahajan Seth and Ms. Divyanshi Anand, Advocates for R-1. Mr. Salman Khurshid, Senior Advocate with Ms. Asifa Rashid Mir, Ms. Shabeena Anjum, Mr. Bhanu Pratap Singh, Mr. Sanjay Kumar Tanwar, Mr. Manoj Chauhan and Mr. A.P. Singh, Advocates for R-2.

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