New Delhi: Last Wednesday, Chief Justice of India (CJI) NV Ramana refused to allow senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi to mention a matter before the Supreme Court.
Vehemently opposing the practice of senior advocates mentioning matters before him, the chief justice said, “Sorry, Mr Singhvi. I don’t entertain seniors. I want to end the senior business.”
Soon after, senior advocate Kapil Sibal tried to mention a matter as well. To this, Justice Ramana replied in a similar tenor: “Mr Sibal, it applies to you also.”
He then remarked that he had been receiving concerns from junior lawyers, requesting the court to end the practice of senior advocates being allowed to mention.
As a master of the roster, the CJI can entertain requests from lawyers to list cases out of turn, without waiting for the registry to list them in the normal course. In case the CJI feels that a matter requires urgent hearing, he directs for it to be listed immediately.
Urgent mentioning in court refers to a short oral plea before the SC registry or the bench, seeking ‘urgent listing’ of a matter. Mentioning is often used as an instrument in building demolitions, floor tests, bail, and other time-sensitive matters.
Justice Ramana’s outburst against the practice of senior advocates mentioning cases is not the first time a sitting CJI has expressed reservations over this trend. However, lawyers ThePrint spoke to said that the problem was with the way matters get listed by the SC registry, forcing advocates on record (AORs) to hire seniors to mention cases.
Under Supreme Court rules, only an AOR can appear, plead, and address the Supreme Court. However, a non-AOR lawyer, whether senior or junior, can appear in the apex court with the AOR’s permission.
To become an AOR at the apex court, one is required to practise as a lawyer for a minimum of four years, undertake a year’s training under a senior advocate and qualify an AOR exam administered by the Supreme Court itself.
A senior advocate is a lawyer who is given the title of a “senior” by the full court of SC, comprising all sitting judges of the top court. However, a designated senior lawyer cannot appear without a briefing council and an AOR.
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Similar concerns raised in 2014 & 2017
In 2017, a batch of advocates had complained that senior advocates were eating away their chances of getting urgent dates for hearing. This led the then CJI Dipak Mishra to put in a prohibition over mentioning by senior advocates. It was done after advocate PV Dinesh raised this issue before him.
“We, junior lawyers, have been waiting for 20 minutes to mention our cases but when our turn comes, my lord is refusing to hear us. All senior advocates were mentioning earlier and we have not got any opportunity. Will litigants who can’t afford senior lawyers not get a chance?” Dinesh had asked.
“Only advocates on record will mention henceforth,” Justice Mishra had said then.
Earlier in 2014, Justice RM Lodha, as the CJI-designate, had raised similar concerns. Days before he was sworn in as India’s 41st CJI, Justice Lodha had reproached senior advocates for mentioning matters and barred them from doing so during his tenure.
Senior advocate Vikas Singh, president of the Supreme Court Bar Association, told ThePrint that the problem was with the system surrounding listing of cases.
“The problem is not that seniors want to mention the matters. Sometimes, the matters are so high stakes that you want a senior to articulate them. A senior counsel cannot appear without a junior counsel. If the chief justice is liberal with mentioning, no senior is interested to mention a matter,” he said.
Advocate Pranav Sachdeva also pointed to the problem of listing of cases. “The system of listing of cases in the Supreme Court has broken down and fresh cases are not listed for months together, especially those considered sensitive.”
According to Sachdeva, the registry has immense discretion during the first and subsequent listing of cases.
“In final hearing cases, some are listed instantly, while others have to wait for years. No court in the world gives such huge discretion to its registry officials who then function in an opaque manner,” he said.
(Edited by Siddarth Muralidharan)
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