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Taking its cue from the Supreme Court’s guidelines issued last Thursday which stated that a lawyer should have fought a certain number of cases pro bono (free of cost) in order to be designated as a senior lawyer, the government wants the same principle to be followed in the appointment of judges.
Government sources told The Hindu that a lawyer’s pro bono record should be considered while elevating him or her as a judge.
The issue, however, is tricky as judges to higher courts are appointed by the Supreme Court collegium — made up of the top five judges of the court — and the Law Ministry only has to give its concurrence.
So, the idea has to be first approved by the collegium before it can be implemented.
Asked if the proposal is under active consideration, Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad was cautious and merely said: “Our government encourages pro bono lawyering. Exposure to pro bono lends its own weight.”
Another senior official of the Law Ministry who’s familiar with the issue pointed out: “How can you select someone as a judge if he is not worthy of being a senior advocate?”
On October 12, the Supreme Court fixed guidelines on how to designate a senior advocate and mentioned pro bono work as one of the criteria.
The Supreme Court has now set up a committee that will also look at various other criteria apart from pro bono work.
Integrity, conduct, reputation and the number of reported judgments in which the advocate has appeared would all be factored in by the committee before recommending someone as a senior advocate.
The National Legal Services Authority and State Legal Aid Authorities offer free legal aid to those who can’t afford it. Now, the Supreme Court’s new guidelines are expected to give a big boost to that effort. The Department of Justice has also written to various Bar associations asking for data on lawyers offering free legal service.