Kerala HC pulls up Bar Council for delay in lawyer’s stipends

Kerala: The Kerala High Court on Monday yet again pulled up the State Bar Council for its undue delay in implementing the 2018 Government Order directing to pay a stipend of Rs. 5,000 each to junior lawyers, despite repeated directions from the Court.

Justice PV Kunhikrishnan orally remarked during the proceedings:

“There are lawyers here who don’t even earn ₹1,000 and have to run tea stalls to make a living. There are lawyers who I know personally selling tea to survive. The Government passed its order to provide them with a small amount but the Bar Council has still not amended or framed a Rule in this regard.”

The Single Bench came down heavily on the Bar Council for its inaction while adjudicating upon a plea that sought immediate implementation of the Government Order, particularly considering the adverse effect of the pandemic on the plight of junior lawyers.

The Court expressed its displeasure at the failure of the Bar Council to perform its duties towards young members of Bar

“Why don’t I issue an order that these members are not eligible to continue on the Council? It has been more than three years. I came to know that they have built a new guest house spending crores of rupees in the meantime but they couldn’t find any money to pay the junior advocates?”

Additional Advocate General Ashok Cherian informed the Court that the delay was due to a lack of adequate resources, citing that a sum of ₹36 crores will be required to implement the GO per annum. But he assured the Court that the State is taking the issue seriously and will do the needful within a period of two months.

Senior Advocate Gracious Kuriakose, appearing for the State Bar Council, submitted that the rules were already framed and submitted before the government.

Both lawyers submitted that a comprehensive package is being prepared by the State in consultation with the Bar Council of Kerala. While the Court recorded the same in its interim order, it also made it clear that the actions of the Bar Council have been unsatisfactory so far:

“Even though I am not satisfied by the way in which the Bar Council of Kerala proceeded after the GO was issued, I record submissions of the counsels,” the order stated.

The Court directed the Government and the Bar Council to submit a report with the Court within a period of two months. Before the hearing concluded, upon request from one of the counsel to consider the matter part-heard, Justice Kunhikrishnan said,

“Why are we sitting here as judges if we cannot understand the plight of our junior lawyers. They are the future of the judiciary. All 42 judges of this Court are concerned with this matter. All are on the side of junior lawyers. No need to be part-heard.”

The Court recorded the undertaking of the State that deliberations on a comprehensive manner of implementing the said stipend were underway. However, the Single Bench lashed out at the Bar Council again pointing out the delay on their part for implementing each step till date while the State was prompt in responding at each stage.

“The GO is dated March 2018. This is a statutory matter and they took 5 months to come to a decision. The first proposal to amend rules came in August 2018, 5 months later. The elected committee came to power in January 2019. The Rule committee with three lawyers was constituted only in May 2019. They submitted a report immediately but this was forwarded only in July 2020.”

The Court passed a detailed interim order and adjourned the case till 20th December 2021, granting time as sought by the State, though it expressed its displeasure in delaying it further.

Advocate Manu Ramachandran appeared for the petitioner in the matter and explained why such a provision came into place in the first place. He brought the attention of the Court to the amendment which actually brought in the provision for stipend in Kerala Advocate’s Welfare Fund.

In the said amendment, the State had increased the Welfare Fund Stamp value by two times. The Counsel contended that the stipend was prescribed in view for junior advocates to be able to cover the additional costs after the amendment came into force.

The observation came in a petition filed by Advocate Dheeraj Ravi seeking assistance for lawyers suffering from the Covid-19 crisis.

The Court had earlier come down heavily upon the State Bar Council observing that it cannot pretend that it does not see the agony of junior lawyers.

Vide order dated March 9, 2018, the Kerala Government had sanctioned a monthly stipend of Rs.5000/- for junior lawyers of a specified category, payable out of the Welfare Fund created under Kerala Advocate’s Welfare Fund Act, 1980.