On Monday, October 16, the Supreme Court upheld the practice of designating senior advocates, affirming the constitutionality of Sections 16 and 23 of the Advocates Act, 1961. The court ruled that the process of conferring senior designations on advocates is not arbitrary but rather based on standardized merit.

The court’s decision was delivered by a bench consisting of Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul, Sudhanshu Dhulia, and CT Ravikumar, in response to a public interest litigation (PIL) petition filed by Advocate Mathews J Nedumpara and others who contested the practice of designating advocates as ‘senior’ under Sections 16 and 23(5) of the Advocates Act, 1961.

In a critical tone, the bench dismissed the petition, referring to it as a ‘misadventure.’ The bench also pointed out that past judgments and orders in contempt cases against Nedumpara had not deterred him from pursuing what they described as a “vilification campaign.”

Nedumpara’s argument centered around the idea that this distinction favored privileged lawyers, leading to the monopolization of the legal field by those with connections to influential figures. He likened the senior designation system to the historical concept of Queen’s Counsel in 18thcentury England and contended that it hindered equitable treatment for the majority of litigants who could not afford senior advocates’ services. He claimed that the existing guidelines, including those established in the 2018 judgment in Indira Jaising v. Supreme Court, violated Article 14 of the Constitution, asserting that a special class of advocates with exclusive privileges was unconstitutional.

During the hearing, Justice Kaul emphasized the underlying purpose of Section 16, highlighting that the designation of a senior advocate is based on established norms and abilities to facilitate court proceedings. The judge also disputed Nedumpara’s claim that senior advocates received special privileges, noting that, in practice, junior lawyers often received more patient hearings.

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