by Shambo Nandy
The title of the post may make it seem that in the following paragraphs I will talk about the problems faced by the aam admi in approaching the Supreme Court to enforce their rights. However interesting such a narrative might be, I will refrain from speaking about that in this post. I will rather talk about a recent decision of the Supreme Court administration which, as someone new to the Supreme Court I find quite illogical and distressing.
Few months ago, in an interview to me, Mr. Raju Ramachandran, a Senior Advocate of the Supreme Court had said that he was so inspired by the arguments of Palkhivala and Seervai in the Kesavananda Bharati case that he forgot all about the journalism course that he was doing and decided to study law. Such may be the case for many of the current brilliant lawyers of the country who were inspired by the leading lights of their student days. Passionately making their point, rebutting their opposing counsels while calling them “my learned friend,” answering the sharp questions posed by the judges – all these qualities of any leading lawyer is potent enough to inspire many under confident college students to take up litigation as a career option. Thus, it indeed must be disheartening for the thousands of law students to know that they now have a very restricted entry into the Supreme Court.
The reason for this is that the Deputy Registrar has come out with a notice which states that w.e.f. 2nd of September, 2013 law students and pre-enrollment interns will no longer be allowed entry to courts on Miscellaneous days. Although no reason for such a measure was disclosed in the notice, it is quite apparent that due to the overcrowding in the Supreme Court on Miscellaneous days, such a restriction has been imposed.
There is undoubtedly no dispute over the fact that the Supreme Court is indeed crowded on Miscellaneous days. In fact the situation is not quite different on non-miscellaneous days as well. Speaking from experience, only last week in Justice Nijjar’s court (court no. 9), there was a maddening crowd. It prompted a senior advocate to tell the court “My Lords, anyone who is able to reach this Court today should be given relief!” But, are interns the main culprits? Is the overcrowding problem in the Supreme Court caused only by them?
Court nos. 1 to 5 have separate entry and enclosures for advocates and visitors (including interns). Interns cannot possibly cause any problem in these court rooms. However, court nos. 6 to 15 have no such separate entry or enclosure. Moreover, these courts are smaller in size than the other courts. It is in these courts that overcrowding takes place. Entering and exiting these courts become really difficult. But, will restricting interns on Miscellaneous days solve this problem?
In my brief time in the Supreme Court I have never found more than six to seven interns in a particular court (number of interns does not vary between Miscellaneous and non-Miscellaneous days). Is this number too much to warrant a total ban? Rather, I feel that there are various other reasons why overcrowding takes place. Very often batch matters are listed before the court, which means for a particular item, there are too many senior lawyers, their juniors, their clerks and the litigants themselves. This is also the reason why overcrowding also takes place sometimes on non-Miscellaneous days. Another reason is that some senior advocates have too many juniors and they are seen always with four-five of them. Aiding and assisting them is an instructing advocate (and his retinue) and very often in high value matters, there is a junior counsel also. The cumulative impact is that for a particular item, there are around ten people on one side alone, which means it is around twenty people for both the sides. This number may not be true for non-high value matters; even then the number is not less than ten. Since this is the case, there is not space enough for lawyers for more than six to seven items. Often in important matters, there are many lawyers, who come to take note of the proceedings. While this is absolutely necessary and should not be discouraged, at the same time interns should not be blamed for this.
One may argue that interns are not being completely banned; they are now disallowed only for two days in a week when admission matters take place. However, I feel that even then it is unwarranted. Majority of the Supreme Court’s cases are admitted via Special Leave Petitions under Article 136 of the Constitution on these two Miscellaneous days. Power under Article 136 is discretionary. It is important for interns and juniors alike to observe and learn the court craft adopted by the senior members of the Bar in getting a matter admitted to the court. Such an art is no child’s play and it is only after sufficient observation, junior lawyers attempt to get matters admitted themselves.
Thus, I feel that the real problem lies with the court’s infrastructure. The size of the courts doesn’t seem to suggest that there has been proper future planning w.r.t. the number of lawyers who will be using the court. I am reminded of the Supreme Court’s directions in the case of Salem Advocates Bar Association (II) vs. Union of India [(2005) 6 SCC 344]. The court had directed the government to examine whether or not there should be a ‘judicial impact assessment’, whenever any legislation is introduced either in Parliament or in the State Legislatures. It stated that the financial memorandum attached to each Bill should also mention, amongst other things, how many courts are necessary, how many judges and staff are necessary and what is the infrastructure necessary.
Thus, I feel that the next Judicial Impact Assessment Committee should also discuss whether there should be infrastructural expansions in the Supreme Court itself to contain the problem of overcrowding.
To conclude, I re-iterate that the no-interns policy needs serious reconsideration. Graduates from national law schools are always blamed for not taking up litigation as a career option. This measure will act as a disincentive and discouragement from taking up the practice of law in courts. There is enough discouragement already, in the form of unfavourable internship calendars which don’t tally with the courts’ working periods, allurement to join a high paying law firm job in the transactional sector, poorly thought out methodology of teaching which doesn’t help one acquire any skills required to make it big in litigation and many others.
The Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) should step in to help the interns get entry on all days of the week. As leaders of the highest bar association in the country, they too have a role to ensure that the future generation of lawyers are encouraged most to join the Bar.
(Shambo Nandy is a recent graduate of NUJS, Kolkata. He is currently an Advocate practicing in Delhi)