Fitness test for lawyers: Advocates call it an invasion of privacy

  • Satya Prakash, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Sep 13, 2015 17:42 IST
Illustration: Jayanto

The Supreme Court’s idea of physical and mental test for advocates to ascertain their “continued fitness of an advocate to conduct a criminal trial” has evoked strong reactions from senior advocates who termed it as invasion of a lawyer’s privacy.

“This is an extraordinary step. It’s an invasion of privacy of a counsel. If he is subjected to a physical and mental fitness test by the Bar Council of India, there would be strong reaction from the Bar,” senior counsel KK Venugopal told HT.

Setting aside a Delhi high court order to re-examine 13 prosecution witnesses, including the victim in the Uber rape case, a bench of justices JS Khehar and Adarsh Kumar Goel had mooted the idea of fitness test for advocates.

But the suggestion didn’t go down well with senior lawyers. “If he (an advocate) is of failing health, it should be left to him to decide where to continue in legal practice or not….In such a situation no one would engage him and he would fade away from the scene,” he said.

Terming it “completely unthinkable”, senior advocate and Rajya Sabha MP KTS Tulsi said: “Physical and mental fitness of government servants is determined when they enter the service. But unfitness can occur any time.”

“Is the SC proposing there should be an annual fitness test? And if there is going to be such an annual health check up, will it be for all public servants, including judges?” Tulsi asked. “One particular case does not call for policy change. I think it is an overreaction,” he said.

Suggesting changes in the Advocates Act and the relevant rules to ensure they were physically and mentally fit to conduct a trial, the SC had asked authorities, including the Bar Council of India and Law Commission, to look into the issue.

“Perhaps time has come to review the Advocates Act and relevant rules to examine the continued fitness of an advocate to conduct a criminal trial on account of advanced age or other mental or physical infirmity, to avoid grievance that an Advocate who conducted trial was unfit or incompetent,” the bench said.

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