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Govt wants lawyers becoming judges to have worked for poor clients for free

Law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad says mandatory voluntary work will also act as a means of “diversity inclusion” in India’s judicial system.

india Updated: Oct 16, 2017 16:42 IST
Jatin Gandhi
Jatin Gandhi
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Ravi Shankar Prasad,Lawyers,Judges
Lawyers outside Supreme court. Photographed on 7 March 2011 by (Pradeep Gaur/ Mint File)

Free legal assistance to the poor will soon be included in the criteria for lawyers to be selected as judges, sources in the Union law ministry said.

Law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said the government is looking to promote pro bono (Latin for the phrase ‘for the public good’) work, which is crucial for a country like India where millions are unable to afford the fees usually sought by lawyers.

Sources in the law ministry said that the government is yet to lay down the criteria but the proposal has already been accepted in principle at the highest levels in the government.

According to Prasad, mandatory voluntary work will also act as a means of “diversity inclusion” in India’s judicial system.

The decisions comes close on the heels of the Supreme Court making pro bono work as one of the parameters that will be taken into account for lawyers to be designated as senior advocates.

The top court’s ruling, made on October 12, laid down for the first time a four-layer evaluation criteria for senior advocates. Points will be given for years of experience; domain expertise, quality of judgments and arguments put forth, pro bono work done by the lawyer; publications and finally, a personality interview.

The selection of judges in India varies according to levels with the lowest rung — magistrates — selected by state commissions through written tests and interview.

Judges to high courts are appointed either from the lower judiciary or from among members of the Bar. Candidates are shortlisted by high court collegia – panels of senior-most judges in the HCs – and sent to the government.

The ministry vets them and attaches a report from the Intelligence Bureau and forwards it to the Supreme Court collegium — a body of India’s top five judges headed by the Chief Justice of India — which takes a final call on the appointments.

The HC collegia also send performance records. For members of the bar, it is the cases they have argued, and for lower court judges, the judgements they have issued.

The SC collegium then selects the final names based on a set of guidelines called Memorandum of Procedure (MOP) and sends them to the government for appointment.

In August, the ministry wrote to the cabinet secretariat saying the process of “detailed scrutiny of proposals received for appointment of judges from high courts has been initiated”.

The ministry’s plan to widen the scrutiny to assess candidates for pro-bono lawyering is also being seen as part of a larger initiative by the government. Earlier this year, the government launched tele-law to connect poor litigants in remote locations with experienced lawyers in state capitals through video conferencing.

Prime minister Narendra Modi recently issued an appeal to practicing lawyers to come forward and offer free services to the marginalised as part of an initiative of the department of justice

First Published: Oct 15, 2017 11:31 IST