In order to encourage lawyers to render free legal assistance to the poor in high courts, the Centre is mulling making ‘pro bono’ (voluntary) legal service as one of the yardstick to be considered for appointment of high court judges from among advocates.
‘Pro bono publico’, also used as just ‘pro bono’, is a Latin phrase for professional work undertaken voluntarily and without any charges.
The government is planning to create a data base of those advocates who meet the age criterion of 45-55 years with minimum annual professional income of Rs 5 lakh (in five years), says a letter of the Centre’s department of justice, seeking data of the interested lawyers.
Many of the lawyers in the Supreme Court (SC) and high courts have been seeking weightage to lawyers rendering ‘pro bono’ legal assistance for designation as senior advocates and appointment as judges.
After the SC struck down the National Judicial Appointments Commission Act in 2015, the government is in the process of finalising a memorandum of procedure on appointment of high court and apex court judges.
“It can be one of the criteria. But can’t be a criterion over others (criteria),” Punjab and Haryana High Court Bar Association president HS Brar said.
He added that if a condition on rendering free legal assistance is imposed for designating senior advocates, it would be of great help to the poor.
In the letter, the justice department has emphasised that voluntary representation by lawyers was their social responsibility.
“Pro bono is an important element in the provision of access to justice, as it provides people with the legal help they otherwise do not get, but also helps develop skill sets of lawyers. The government is exploring the possibility of laying emphasis on pro bono legal assistance provided by advocates to needy litigants as one of the proposed yardstick to be considered for appointment as judges of high court,” says the November 10 letter, signed by law secretary Snehlata Shrivastava.
RS Badhran, a member of the Bar Council of Punjab and Haryana said data has been sought of lawyers to enable department to form a data base. “How and when they plan to implement it. There is no clarity as of now,” he said.