The Daily Fix

The Daily Fix: Committee to designate senior lawyers is a healthy step towards transparency

Everything you need to know for the day (and a little more).

Legal privilege

Last week, the Supreme Court took a resolute step towards making judicial appointments more transparent when it decided to make public the resolutions of the collegium that makes decisions about choosing and transferring judges of the apex court and High Courts. On Thursday, the court undertook yet another major reform in an area that has been shrouded in secrecy and arbitrariness.

Acting on a petition moved by lawyer Indira Jaising, the Supreme Court on Thursday set up a permanent committee to take over the process of designating senior advocates, both in the apex court and 105 High Courts across the country.

Attaining seniority is considered a privilege in the legal profession in India. Senior advocates wear a distinct gown that distinguishes them from the juniors in the court and are, by rule, given priority in hearings before the bench. The designation is seen as a recognition of commitment and talent and, thus far, has been accorded to lawyers by the full bench of either the Supreme Court or the High Courts if they fulfilled the eligibility norms. Seniority is considered crucial because it helps the lawyer to be considered for elevation as a judge.

However, over the last few decades, the process seem to have become lax. Across the country, complaints came pouring in of lawyers with barely any professional standing getting seniority. On the other hand, some deserving candidates were overlooked. The popular notion among lawyers was that if one had the right connections, the seniority designation was easy to obtain. This meant those with family or political connections had a big advantage in the process. In fact, there have been instances in which the rules for seniority were tinkered to favour specific individuals who belonged to prominent legal families, a handful of which dominate the profession today. The process was also heavily skewed against women lawyers.

This apart, many senior lawyers, especially in the High Courts, often disregard the restrictions imposed by the law on designated advocates. For example, a senior lawyer is barred from taking a brief or instructions directly from a client. Such a lawyer should also keep away from drafting petitions or advice on evidence. It is an open secret that many seniors consistently flout these norms as there few mechanisms in place to monitor violations.

Thursday’s order raises the hope that the legal profession will become more egalitarian. The committee that will designate senior lawyers will be headed by the chief justice and two senior-most judges of a court. It will include the attorney general or the advocate general as the case may require and an independent member of the bar. All applications will be made public, and comments will be invited. Lastly, the candidate would be interviewed and will be marked according to a point-based assessment format that will take into consideration experience, expertise in field of law, the pro bono work a lawyer has done, the quality of cases he or she has been part of and a test of personality.

Designating more meritorious first-generation lawyers could go a long way in democraticing a profession that currently functions like an oligarchy.

The Big Scroll

  • What the paltry number of senior women advocates reveals about India’s legal culture  

Punditry

  1. Prakash Narain in the Indian Express says Indian Railways needs to institute measures to enhance accountability. 
  2. In The Hindu, Tabish Khair wonders if India will ever get over its obsession with godmen. 
  3. Lok Sabha Deputy Speaker M Thambidurai makes a case for simultaneous elections in the Times of India. 
  4. In the Mint, Deepak Nayyar says the ministry of finance is caught in a deficit fetishism that seeks to limit the fiscal deficit to 3.5% of GDP and thereby helping the slowdown of the economy. 

Giggles

Don’t miss

Priyanka Vora writes on what India’s obesity problem has to do with its malnourished pregnant women.

“Bentham and his team pooled 2,416 population based studies to estimate the trend of underweight, overweight and obesity across 200 countries, including India, between 1975 and 2016. The findings were published in The Lancet and released this week.

India has long had a problem of undernutrition among its children linked to poverty and lack of access to nutritious food. Even in 2016, the study shows, 22% of the girls and 30% of the boys in the country were moderately or severely underweight. This prevalence was the highest among the countries surveyed in the study.”

Support our journalism by subscribing to Scroll+ here. We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Do you really need to use that plastic straw?

The hazards of single-use plastic items, and what to use instead.

In June 2018, a distressed whale in Thailand made headlines around the world. After an autopsy it’s cause of death was determined to be more than 80 plastic bags it had ingested. The pictures caused great concern and brought into focus the urgency of the fight against single-use plastic. This term refers to use-and-throw plastic products that are designed for one-time use, such as takeaway spoons and forks, polythene bags styrofoam cups etc. In its report on single-use plastics, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has described how single-use plastics have a far-reaching impact in the environment.

Dense quantity of plastic litter means sights such as the distressed whale in Thailand aren’t uncommon. Plastic products have been found in the airways and stomachs of hundreds of marine and land species. Plastic bags, especially, confuse turtles who mistake them for jellyfish - their food. They can even exacerbate health crises, such as a malarial outbreak, by clogging sewers and creating ideal conditions for vector-borne diseases to thrive. In 1988, poor drainage made worse by plastic clogging contributed to the devastating Bangladesh floods in which two-thirds of the country was submerged.

Plastic litter can, moreover, cause physiological harm. Burning plastic waste for cooking fuel and in open air pits releases harmful gases in the air, contributing to poor air quality especially in poorer countries where these practices are common. But plastic needn’t even be burned to cause physiological harm. The toxic chemical additives in the manufacturing process of plastics remain in animal tissue, which is then consumed by humans. These highly toxic and carcinogenic substances (benzene, styrene etc.) can cause damage to nervous systems, lungs and reproductive organs.

The European Commission recently released a list of top 10 single-use plastic items that it plans to ban in the near future. These items are ubiquitous as trash across the world’s beaches, even the pristine, seemingly untouched ones. Some of them, such as styrofoam cups, take up to a 1,000 years to photodegrade (the breakdown of substances by exposure to UV and infrared rays from sunlight), disintegrating into microplastics, another health hazard.

More than 60 countries have introduced levies and bans to discourage the use of single-use plastics. Morocco and Rwanda have emerged as inspiring success stories of such policies. Rwanda, in fact, is now among the cleanest countries on Earth. In India, Maharashtra became the 18th state to effect a ban on disposable plastic items in March 2018. Now India plans to replicate the decision on a national level, aiming to eliminate single-use plastics entirely by 2022. While government efforts are important to encourage industries to redesign their production methods, individuals too can take steps to minimise their consumption, and littering, of single-use plastics. Most of these actions are low on effort, but can cause a significant reduction in plastic waste in the environment, if the return of Olive Ridley turtles to a Mumbai beach are anything to go by.

To know more about the single-use plastics problem, visit Planet or Plastic portal, National Geographic’s multi-year effort to raise awareness about the global plastic trash crisis. From microplastics in cosmetics to haunting art on plastic pollution, Planet or Plastic is a comprehensive resource on the problem. You can take the pledge to reduce your use of single-use plastics, here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of National Geographic, and not by the Scroll editorial team.