IT IS for the first time in the country that the Punjab Assembly has passed the The Punjab Law Officers (Engagement) Bill-2017, fixing the minimum professional as well as financial eligibility criteria for selection of law officers in the advocate general’s office more than that required for appointment of High Court judge or advocate general. Describing it as unworkable, legal experts say it is to be seen whether the legislation stands judicial scrutiny.
Articles 217 and 224 of the Constitution for appointment of High Court judges do not provide any financial criteria for the post and only say that the candidate should have been an advocate practising in the High Court for at least 10 years. At the same time, Article 165 of the Constitution, regarding appointment of the A-G, says the Governor shall appoint a person as advocate general, who is qualified to be appointed an High Court judge.
However, the new law passed by the state Assembly on Wednesday fixes the eligibility criteria for the post of senior deputy A-G even more than that required for the post of a High Court judge and advocate general of the state. An advocate, having a minimum legal experience of 14 years and a minimum annual professional income of Rs 10 lakh in the past three years, should be eligible for the post of senior deputy A-G.
Former A-G of Punjab and Haryana, Harbhagwan Singh, said, “There should be some reasonableness in the eligibility criteria. The criteria are not workable for Chandigarh lawyers. It may suit Delhi or Bombay as there is more commercial litigation.” He added that there was no dearth of talent in Punjab and Haryana High Court Bar Association but in the given situation, the Act would require amendment and could be challenged in court.
A number of High Court advocates said the legislation would help promote children of judges, bureaucrats and businessmen to fulfil the criteria at least for the post of assistant A-G and deputy A-G as they can file higher income tax returns even if they do not have the required annual professional income, practically.