In a big relief to law graduates with lesser family income, Supreme Court has asked all State Bar Councils to not charge more than Rs 600 from them for enrolment as an advocate.
The bench comprising Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud and Justice PS Narasimha was hearing a plea filed against the exorbitant enrolment fee that is being charged from the new lawyers.
The bench questioned how could the State Bar Councils charge more than the fee prescribed by Section 24(1)(e) of the Advocates Act 1961, which prescribes that the enrolment fee payable to the State Bar Council is Rs 600 and the Bar Council of India is Rs 150.
The apex court has directed all state bar councils to file their responses in connection to the matter. The bench has also asked to submit an affidavit containing the details about the amount of money that is collected in a year.
CJI Chandrachud stated, “I think the Bar Council of India has to intervene because the State Bar Councils are charging huge amounts for enrollment…How will a Dalit student or a student from rural background afford this?”
After Chairman of the Bar Council of India and Senior Advocate Manan Kumar Misra said that the fee is charged only once and nothing is charged after that, CJI Chandrachud said, “We understand that it is a one time payment but how much does it work out to per year? How many advocates get in rolled per year multiplied by the Bar Council fee – that is what we are asking.”
Addressing the exorbitant enrolment fee in Odisha (Rs 42,000) and Jharkhand (Rs 23,000), CJI said, “The enrollment fee is a fee which you pay for being enrolled to the bar. They can’t say that well we will give you books and therefore we are charging more.”
The court has ordered the State Bar Councils, who have not yet submitted their replies, to do so within four weeks. If they fail to comply with this directive, they will lose their right to reply, and the petition will proceed on the assumption that they have no further comments to make.
Asking for assistance from Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, CJI Chandrachud said, “It is a very important issue because law is a public service-oriented profession. Our concern is that if you are charging these kinds of fees, imagine somebody who has to pay Rs.25,000 or Rs.40,000 for enrolment...”
“Another angle which your lordships could examine is the very nature of fee should be commensurate with the services rendered,” SG Mehta said.
“This is a statutory provision. This is not been altered…Can we say that the statute says Rs.600 but that is now subject to the inflationary escalation every year? This is what the statute says. It cannot be more than that. If it is to be more than that, then the statute has to be amended,” CJI said while citing Section 24(1)(e) of the Advocates Act, 1961.
BCI Chairman Mishra stated that the provision doesn’t account for the inflation.
“The statute does not permit you to do that. There is no option,” Justice Narasimha said.