ARE LAWYERS above the law? Questioning why a lawyer should be allowed to continue his practice while public servants lose their jobs after conviction in criminal cases, the Supreme Court has asked the Law Commission to come up with recommendations for the central government to regulate legal profession.
Regretting inaction by the Bar Council of India and state Bar Councils to take actions against unruly lawyers and devise strict norms to curb professional misconduct, a bench led by Justice Anil R Dave has asked the Commission to examine in particular Section 24A of Advocates Act and the need to amend it.
Section 24A lays down that a person shall not be enrolled as an advocate if he is convicted of an offence involving moral turpitude. But if the conviction comes after the enrolment, the person can be disqualified from practice for only two years once the sentence is carried out.
The bench, also comprising Justices Kurian Joseph and Adarsh K Goel, found no justification in the distinction between those convicted before enrolment and after it, and noted that a bar against retention in services applied to civil servants and others performing important public functions.
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“The result (of Section 24A) is that a person convicted of even a most heinous offence is eligible to be enrolled as an advocate after expiry of two years from expiry of his sentence. This aspect needs urgent attention of all concerned,” the court said in its order on Tuesday.
It lamented a failure by the Law Ministry and Bar Councils to pay heed to suggestions made by the Gujarat High Court three decades ago, asking them to consider amendments to Section 24A to “preserve the image of the profession and protect the seekers for justice from dangers inherent in admitting such persons on the rolls of the Bar Council”.
Referring the matter to the Law Commission, the court said: “We have noticed the failure of all concerned to advert to the observations made by the Gujarat High Court 33 years ago. Thus, there appears to be urgent need to review the provisions of the Advocates Act dealing with regulatory mechanism for the legal profession and other incidental issues, in consultation with all concerned.”
The court requested the Law Commission of India to go into all relevant aspects relating to regulation of legal profession in consultation with all concerned at an early date.
The bench, also assuming suo motu jurisdiction in the wake of inaction by the Bar Councils, ordered that licence of a lawyer, convicted of criminal contempt for threatening a civil judge at Etah in Uttar Pradesh, will remain suspended for five years, in addition to two years under Section 24A.
After a complaint was received from a civil judge and district judge, Allahabad High Court had conducted a trial and convicted the lawyer in 2004. It sentenced the lawyer to two months in jail and asked the Bar Councils to take action against him under the Advocates Act.
When the lawyer appealed in the apex court, the three-judge bench decided to examine whether an advocate could be permitted to practice on conviction under the Contempt of Courts Act or any other offence involving moral turpitude. It was in these facts the bench sent the matter to the Law Commission for examining amendment to Section 24A and punished the lawyer with seven years of disqualification.