Free legal assistance extended by a lawyer to the needy should be an important criterion while considering him for elevation as a judge, the government feels. A senior government functionary said the guidelines laid down recently by the apex court outlining the importance of pro bono has “strengthened” the feeling in the government that “pro bono lawyering” be made a pre-requisite to become a judge. Like getting the gown of a Senior advocate, pro bono activity can easily be a criterion for becoming a judge for those coming to the bench from active bar service, the functionary said.
Pro bono is something which is done for the public good without any payment or compensation.
On whether the government feels that pro bono service be made a criterion for becoming a judge of the Supreme Court or a high court, Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad merely said, “Our government is keenly promoting pro bono lawyering. Exposure to pro bono lends its own weight.”
The guidelines fixed by the Supreme Court for itself and the 24 high courts last week to govern the exercise of designating lawyers as Seniors, talk about pro bono activities undertaken by an advocate.
Under the new system, all matters related to designation of Senior advocates would be looked into by a committee which will consider the reputation, conduct, integrity of the advocate, including participation in pro bono work, reported judgement in which the advocate has appeared and the number of such judgements.
But the Supreme Court collegium — a body of top five judges of the apex court which recommends the names it finds fit for appointment as judges — will have to take a final call on the issue.
Free legal aid and service in India is primarily the mandate of National Legal Services Authority and State Legal Aid Services authorities which have a wide presence throughout the country.
However, the legal needs of people continue to grow, thus requiring meaningful contribution from the legal community.
But pro bono legal service as a concept has not gained much momentum in the country and remains more of an ad hoc, individualised practice lacking an institutional structure.
“Many lawyers provide the poor and underprivileged clients with valuable legal advice and support without seeking any professional fee. Unfortunately, this laudable tradition of public service has not received any deserving recognition… ,” the department of justice in the law ministry has said in a note.
Now, the department of justice intends to create a database of lawyers willing to provide their services to litigants.
It has already written to all bar councils and bar associations across the country to provide information of lawyers who are engaged in providing pro bono legal services to the poor and those who otherwise cannot afford legal representation.