The Madras High Court on Friday in a sweeping reform took upon itself the power to debar an advocate for professional misconduct, which power hitherto vests with the Bar Council of India or the Tamil Nadu Bar Council.
According to highly placed sources in the High Court, the Rules under Section 34 (1) of the Advocates Act have been amended to debar an advocate in the light of unruly scenes by lawyers witnessed last year in the Madurai bench as well as in the parent high Ccurt premises. Lawyers carrying abusive placards went in a procession and shouted slogans against certain judges, forcing the High Court to initiate suo motu contempt of court proceedings. A judge, highly rated for his legal acumen and person al integrity, opted for transfer to another High Court after coming under abusive attack in open court during a case hearing.
It is against such a backdrop the HC has presently brought out this notification to rein in not just the erring lawyers but also to maintain the dignity of the courts and protect the interests of the litigant public suffering from unnecessary court boycotts and forced adjournments at the hands of some lawyers.
A majority of lawyers are sincere and follow rules and decorum, but they are forced to remain mute spectators to deviant conduct by some others, says noted lawyer Ms Sudha Ramalingam. “This is what we deserve because the Bar Council was very ineffective in dealing with the erring advocates. Those who adhere to the law and decent conduct have no reason to be apprehensive about this notification”, she told DC.
As per the amended rules which comes into immediate effect, a lawyer is said to have indulged in professional misconduct when he is found to have accepted money in the name of a judge or on the pretext of influencing him; or he is found to have tampered with the court record or court order; or an Advocate who browbeats and/or abuses a judge or judicial officer; or an Advocate who is found to have sent or spread unfounded and unsubstantiated allegations/petitions against a judicial officer or a Judge to the Superior Court; or an advocate who actively participates in a procession inside the court campus and/or involves in gherao inside the court hall or holds placard inside the court hall; or an advocate who appears in the court under the influence of liquor.
The rule says that the delinquent lawyer shall be debarred from appearing before the high court or subordinate courts permanently or for such period as the court may think fit and the Registrar General shall report the same to the Bar Council of Tamil Nadu. If such misconduct is committed by an advocate before the High Court, the High Court shall have the power to initiate action against the advocate concerned and debar him from appearing before the High Court and all subordinate courts. If the misconduct is committed before the court of Principal District Judge, the Principal District Judge shall have the power to initiate action against the advocate concerned and debar him from appearing before any court within such district.
Subordinate courts have been conferred power to recommend to the Principal district court for debarring a delinquent advocate. The All India Association of Jurists has criticised the High Court for notifying “such draconian rules” to debar an advocate for misconduct. Dr. Anthony Selvaraj, Chairman of AIAJ told DC: “the High Court cannot be a prosecutor and a judge of its own cause. Such a power is against the principles of natural justice and the rights of lawyers granted under the Advocates Act and the Constitution”.
He said the Supreme Court in a catena of cases has held that the power to debar an advocate vested only with the Bar Council of India and the High Court cannot take over the jurisdiction of the BCI. If the conduct or behavior of an advocate amounted to contempt, the court can only initiate contempt of court proceedings but it has no power to debar him for misconduct.