Some lawyers in the Supreme Court got agitated on Friday and started shouting at each other to get the attention of the chief justice’s bench, but the leading CJI T S Thakur instead lost his cool and asked them to “shut up” or get thrown out.
“Shut up. Why are you shouting? Is this a court or a fish market? Shut up I say. I will get you thrown out. There has to be some dignity of the court. This is the problem. People who do not conduct themselves in the courtroom want to become senior lawyers,” the Chief Justice of India told the lawyers who were indulging in heated exchanges inside the court room.
The CJI warned some of them that they could be thrown out of the courtroom if they did not behave and told an advocate who had raised his voice not to do it again.
“You keep quiet. There is a dignity of this court. Is this a court or a market place? You are not a party in this matter. Just look at (eminent lawyer) Soli Sorabjee. Just look at him and try to learn something. Do you think raising your voice and browbeating will help you,” Justice Thakur said.
The CJI’s bench, which also comprised Justices D Y Chandrachud and L Nageswara Rao, was hearing a PIL filed by senior advocate Indira Jaising seeking transparency and overhauling the “opaque system” of designating lawyers as senior advocates.
At the outset, Jaising said that “monopoly” at the Bar of a handful of seniors was affecting access to justice and sought a system that provided “equal opportunity” to all as she compared it with the concept of monopolistic and restrictive trade practices.
She alleged that the present system was discriminatory and “if we want this to continue with the present system, it has to be democratised.”
However, her suggestions that a lawyer with 20-30 years of experience or those who filed PILs and had published articles in prominent periodicals should be automatically be designated as seniors, did not appeal to the bench.
The bench was also not impressed with her suggestion that there should be interviews for nominating a counsel as senior on the ground that the process did not involve selection as the judges always interacted with them during hearing.
While showing its disagreement, the court remarked, “just because a lawyer has spent a number of years in the profession cannot be a ground for his designation. You will also say that lawyers with education in Harvard, Oxford be considered for designation as senior counsel.”
The apex court also questioned the criteria suggested by Jaising to give marks to candidates.
When Jaising spoke about the practice of lobbying, the court asked her whether she had lobbied for her gown. To this, she retorted, “No. I did not. Please don’t compel me to disclose information which I am privy to.”
Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi, senior advocate AM Singhvi, Supreme Court Bar Association president Dushyant Dave and senior counsel Soli Sorabjee also addressed the court on the issue.
Rohatgi opposed the suggestion of a marking system. He also vehemently argued that the designation process should restart and that this case should be closed.
While Singhvi maintained that a mechanism of marking could be followed internally by the judges, his stress was on consistency. Dushyant Dave said the Court should formulate some rules but it should not go for a very formal method.
The parties have now been given a week to file their written submissions and suggestions to make the process of designation more transparent.
Earlier, the court had said it was open to suggestions from the bar to improve the system of designating lawyers as senior, but the final decision would remain with the judges.
It had said that the Bar could form a committee and the court could take into account the views of the committee.
In the PIL, Jaising had termed the present process as “opaque, arbitrary and fraught with nepotism.”
She had claimed that the advocates taking up matters of human rights or public interest litigations were ignored and there was need to analyse data relating to the cases argued, judgements delivered in their matters and their contribution to jurisprudence and legal aid programmes.