In a significant development, Supreme Court on Monday constituted an eight-member committee to monitor the verification of law practice certifications and degrees of the lawyers. The panel is headed by former apex court judge Justice Deepak Gupta.
The bench comprising Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud and Justices PS Narasimha and JB Pardiwala passed this order over a plea filed by practicing advocate Ajay Shankar Srivastava against an order by the Bar Council of India to all State Bar Councils. The effect of the order was to interdict the process of verification of advocates.
In addition to Justice Gupta, the committee will comprise retired Allahabad High Court judge, Justice Arun Tandon, former Delhi High Court Chief Justice Rajendra Menon, Senior Advocates Rakesh Dwivedi and Maninder Singh. It will also include three members which will be nominated by the Bar Council of India.
“All universities and exam boards shall verify the genuineness of degrees without charging fees, and requisition by State Bar Council shall be processed without undue delay. We request the committee to start work in a mutually convenient date and time and status report be filed on August 31, 2023,” the bench stated.
Bar Council of India in 2015, notified the BCI Certificate and Place of Practice (Verification) Rules 2015. SBC and BCI used to undertake the process of verification of advocates from their place of practice.
These Rules were challenged before several High Courts and the Bar Council of India filed a transfer petition before Supreme Court.
BCI constituted a high-level committee to handle the verification. Many difficulties were faced during the verification process as universities were charging law students or lawyers to verify the degree certificates issued by them.
Later, a two-judge apex court bench prohibited the levying of such charges. In April 10’s order of the Supreme Court, it stated that the number of advocates stood at 16 lakh at the relevant time but it is currently estimated to be 25.70 lakh.
The top court observed, “The reply by BCI indicates the position with regard to verification of enrolled advocates state wise. Seniors and AoR had to submit declarations and 1.99 lakh declarations were received. This indicates that the majority of advocates enrolled with State Bar Councils is yet to submit their verification forms and BCI apprehends many are not qualified to practice law and many are there for extraneous purposes and that such persons have to be identified and be weeded out.”
The bench emphasized that due verification of advocates registered with State bar Councils is of utmost importance to safeguard the integrity of the administration of justice and the court system.
“Access cannot be granted to the judicial process to the persons profess to be lawyers but do not have educational qualification or degree certificate on the basis of which they could be given entry to the bar,” the bench stated.
The bench added thus it is the duty of all genuine lawyers to cooperate in this process of having their degrees verified and unless this exercise is carried out periodically, the administration of justice would be under a serious cloud.
Bar Council of India chairperson Manan Kumar Misra submitted before the court that the object of the BCI office order to State Bar Councils was not to stop the verification process but to ensure that verification is not on the basis of certificate of practice alone but also took into consideration the validity and genuineness of degree certificates as well.