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Supreme Court: The 3-judge bench of Ranjan Gogoi, CJ and Deepak Gupta and Aniruddha Bose, JJ has sought response from the Bar Council of India on a plea seeking measures for women lawyers such as safety in courts, maternity benefits and the old age pension.

The bench issued notice to the BCI and its chairperson Manan Kumar Mishra on the PIL, filed by advocate Indu Kaul, which listed out incidents of sexual harassment against women lawyers in different court premises including the Delhi High Court and the trial courts.

The plea sought formulation of social security measures by the apex bar body in coordination with state bar councils to ensure that women lawyers are strengthened.

“The chamber blocks in the court premises have no police person deployed. Male and female rest rooms which have common wall are often found poorly lit which again makes it vulnerable for lady advocates when they use the facility,”

The petition said their safety and security ought to be made the “first priority” in the legal profession where gender disparity cannot be “overlooked”.

“Gender disparity cannot be overlooked in the legal profession where any successful lady advocated is attributed motives for her success which can be as hurting as her character assassination. Safety and security ought to be made the first priority. Lady advocates will withhold themselves from contesting elections of bar associations and bar councils as her male colleagues envy her success from the very first day,”

It further said that as per BCI Model Scheme, at the retirement age of 60 years, a lady lawyer’s position becomes pitiable as her practice diminishes due to poor health and her family still nourishes the impression that being an advocate she must be capable of earning her livelihood. Through social security measures there must be a provision for pension when she opts out of active practice.

It also mentioned the death of Darvesh Yadav, the first woman chairperson of Uttar Pradesh Bar Council who was shot dead by a male colleague in the premises of Agra district court last month. Instead of compensating Yadav’s family out of its own Advocate Welfare’ Fund, issued a press release demanding the compensation from the State Government.

The plea also submitted,

“Bar Councils from different states and BCI collect a huge amount of money on the sale of Advocates’ Welfare Stamp affixed mandatorily on every Vakalatnama irrespective of the fact that the case is criminal, jail petition, of women, old and indigent persons and/or PIL. … BCI as a statutory body is bound to formulate social security measures for providing financial assistance which is a part of it as a body corporate to bear the corporate social responsibility.”

(Source: PTI)

Supreme Court

Supreme Court: Dealing as to which authority has the power to recognize that the qualification is an equivalent qualification to a graduate degree for the purpose of taking admission in the course of graduate degree in Law, a bench of M.Y. Eqbal and A.M. Sapre JJ., upheld the decision of the High Court that such a power vests with the Bar Council and not any other professional/ academic body.

In the instant case, the Court firstly dealt with the question as to whether the professional course i.e., Licentiate of the Court of Examiners in Homoeopathy Medicines (LCEH) is equivalent to a graduation degree. The Court held that as per Section 13 of the Homoeopathy Central Council Act 1973, the medical qualifications granted by a university/ board/ institution included in the Second Schedule shall be recognized as medical qualifications only for the purpose of the Act and not for any other purpose, and therefore LCEH is not a bachelor degree but it is only a qualification to practice in homoeopathy medicine.

Secondly, the Court dealt with the question as to whether the decision of professional/ academic body shall be binding on the Bar Council to decide whether the qualification is equivalent qualification to a graduate degree for the purpose of admission in the course of graduate degree in law, and observed that various provisions of the Advocates Act, 1961 i.e., Section 7, 24 (1)(c)(iii) Section 49 (1); (d) and Rule 1(1)(c) in Part IV of the Rules thereunder makes it evidently clear that the BCI has the power to recognize universities, whose degree in law shall be a qualification for enrollment as an advocate and that BCI is empowered to make Rules to prescribe standards for recognition of degrees.

The Court observed that pursuing law and practicing law are two different things. One can pursue law but for the purpose of obtaining license to practice, he or she must fulfill all the requirements and conditions prescribed by the Bar Council of India. The Court dismissed the appeal and concluded that the BCI does not find the professional course LCEH to be equivalent to a graduate degree, and therefore the appellant was denied the enrollment as an advocate, however the LL.B. degree secured by the appellant was not be withdrawn. Archana Girish Sabnis v. Bar Council of India2014 SCC OnLine SC 943decided on November 26, 2014.

Amendments to existing laws

The Bar Council of India approved the BCI Certificate of Practice and Renewal Rules, 2014 on October 17, 2014. The major concern was to weed out the advocates who have switched to the other profession/ services/ business and whose names continue to be found on the rolls of State Bar Councils, sometimes even longer after their death. The objective of the Rules is to lay down some conditions for practicing law in different courts so as to give due weightage and credence to experience. The Rules proposes that an advocate, who is entitled to practice law, is required to hold a valid “certificate of practice” and registration as a member of the Bar Association recognized under the law. The Rule limits minimum experience to practice law in various courts and states that the new advocates shall start practice only before the Court of law which is equivalent to the Court of Session Judge/ District Judge/ Original jurisdiction and all other courts which are subordinate to them. The Rule also states that unless an advocate has acquired the experience of working before the lower courts and tribunals for 2 years, and before the High Court and such other courts exercising appellate or revisional jurisdiction and all other courts which are subordinate to them for 3 years respectively, they would not be entitled to practice law before the Supreme Court of India. The Rule also provides procedures to apply for grant/ renewal of “Certificate of Practice” of Advocates, which is looked after by the Administrative Committee and is scrutinized for want of bonafide intent to practice law. Any “Certificate of Practice” is valid for a period of five years from the date of its issuance /renewal, and is required to be renewed after the expiry of the said period. In case of failure of making an application for issuance / renewal of the “Certificate of Practice” within the stipulated time, it is presumed that such an advocate has left law practice and that he/she has no bonafide intent and interest in continuing it in future, and his/ her name is added in the list of “Non practicing Lawyers”, who are not entitled to practice law or to vote in any elections of Bar Associations and to other privileges and rights under Welfare Schemes of BCI. The aggrieved “Non-Practicing Advocates” may prefer an appeal to the Appellate Tribunal. The Bar Council of India exercises revisionary power and may call for the record of any proceeding to satisfy that none of the order prejudicially affects the advocates.