A day after a flutter caused by the chairman of the Bar Council of India (BCI), Manan Kumar Mishra, who claimed that 30 per cent of the lawyers in India are fake, veterans in the legal field, practising advocates and members of several lawyers’ associations countered in unison saying the Council has only itself to blame for the degradation.
“There has been a great influx into the legal profession in the recent past. The Bar Council of India, the body responsible for regulating the profession in the country, does not as yet have any vigilant mechanism to check the credentials of applicants,” said retired justice K Chandru, former judge of the Madras High Court. V Suresh, a leading human rights lawyer at the High Court and the national general secretary of PUCL, agreed. “If the BCI is saying there are so many fake cases, then the question arises what the BCI has been doing so far. This shocking figure, if indeed true, is indicative of the flaws in the practises followed by the Bar Council,” Suresh added.
The trouble with fake lawyers, Suresh explained, is it directly affects the basic legal process. Poor legal counsel during the early stages of the cases often cause irreparable damage to the case in contention, as mistakes made during the pleading stage cannot be rectified at a later stage. “The issue affects the very credibility of the whole judicial system, which is now the last remaining refuge of the poor seeking justice,” he added.
There are about 75,000 advocates in the State, and over 4,000 are added annually. These include scores who have obtained law degrees from outside the State. After enrolling, the law graduates have to clear one more test conducted by the Council before being eligible to practise. But even before they take the test, they get temporary Id-card that is valid for three years. That card is rampantly misused, according to RC Paul Kanagaraj, Madras High Court Advocates Association president.
“Under the present system, the Bar Council only checks whether the law certificates they produce are valid or not. The problem with this is, if the institute (from where the certificates are obtained) too is involved in selling these degrees, there is nothing that the Council can do,” said Kanakaraj.
Chandru pointed out that it was the BCI that opposed recommendation by the Law Commission to put in place a system that mandates renewal of license every five years, and also the proposal by the previous Union Cabinet to have an oversight mechanism.
“This is a case where the professionals themselves are shielding the violators. Even the Madras High Court gave a one-time amnesty to a few hundred lawyers, which only sends across a wrong message,” Chandru noted. According to Kanagaraj, there should be a robust mechanism to check that the Classes 10 and 12 certificates submitted by the law graduates, too, are genuine.
“There are cases where they obtain bogus certificates and present them to institutes outside the State that do not verify the documents. There are even institutes that are running the business where the candidates can receive a degree without even having to attend classes or prepare for tests,” he alleged.
However, according to D Selvam, the chairman of the Bar Council of Tamil Nadu and Puducherry, raising general allegations about all the institutes in a State does not help.
“We have been very careful in verifying the credentials of the new candidates, especially after the direction by the Chief Justice. Also, the Madurai bench, too, has directed us that none with a criminal background should be allowed to enrol as advocates,” Selvam claimed. He added about 110 persons have been barred by the Bar Council of TN from enrolling in the State due to criminal charges against them. “For us to act, the local bars should alert us,” he said, adding that TN Bar Council will act even against institutions outside the State, on specific complaints.