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BCI prima facie defames young female Nalsar-Harvard-Cambridge-advocate in press release for not being a top lawyer ‘man of repute’ but ‘sinister’

The Bar Council of India (BCI) has form and a good track record in long press releases containing many strong words, but the regulator of the legal profession may have outdone itself this time with a statement to the press fired off late yesterday (see below for full release, with relevant portions from page 3).

Someone seems to have pointed the lockdowned BCI to a website that appears to have been around since 2015, with the long but apparently search-engine-optimised domain name toplawyersofsupremecourtofindia.com (indeed, aided by its age and on-point domain, this appeared as the top result on Google when searching for top lawyers supreme court).

Top Google search result: Not bad for optimisation
Top Google search result: Not bad for optimisation

The website listed a bunch of pretty well-known lawyers’ names, purporting to allow readers to “See who are the Top & Famous Lawyers of Supreme Court. Must read the full article”.

The BCI members apparently went through the list of advocates and decided that it agreed about all the names in the “1st category of senior lawyers” (see below)

From toplawyersofthesupremecourtofalltimetrustme.com.
From toplawyersofthesupremecourtofalltimetrustme.com.

“They are men of repute,” the BCI stated in its press release about “some very respectable and noted Senior Advocates like Mr. F. S.Nariman, Mr. K. K. Venugopal, Mr. Soli Sorabji, Mr. K. Parasaran, Mr. Harish N. Salve, Mr. Tulsi, Mr. Mukul Rohtagi (sic), Mr. Sundaram, Mr. Gopal Subramanium etc.” (though curiously omitting a few names also listed in the “1st category of senior lawyers”, such as Kapil Sibal, Abhishek Manu Singhvi and the late Ram Jethmalani).

The website also contained a “2nd category of senior lawyers” with several more names of senior advocates.

However, apparently two names in the “good junior advocates” list in particular caught the BCI’s eye, in that the men of repute of the BCI had not heard of them before as being men of repute.

“Not only the two persons Mr. (sic) Suhasini Sen and Mr Rahul (sic) Trivedi have tried to advertise about themselves, but they appear to have mislead (sic) the country by naming some Senior Advocates and placing them in different categories.”

Then the BCI press release proceeded to call out as being “sinister”, playing a “sinister game”, “grab the entire Legal Profession”.

Well, it turns out that Suhasini Sen is indeed not one of the “men of repute”, for she is not Mr Sen but Ms Sen.

Unfortunately for the BCI, there is no evidence either that she has anything to do with the website.

Sen is a 2009 Nalsar Hyderabad graduate with LLMs from both Cambridge and Harvard, and has been practising before the Supreme Court for more than 10 years (including three years as a junior associate to then-senior advocate KK Venugopal).

For the avoidance of doubt, she also strongly denied to us today over WhatsApp, noting that she had nothing to do with the website.

Pushback

We have received several messages from the profession about how the BCI may have overstepped, if not in its language, then at least in making accusations against a young lawyer in a press release.

Senior counsel Gopal Sankaranarayanan posted on Linked-in, for instance:

Yesterday, the Bar Council of India had a meeting where they passed some resolutions about more effective court hearings during the pandemic. However, as a part of the same Press Release, they decided to take action against the promoters of [toplawyersofsupremecourtofindia dot com] which had listed the top lawyers of the Supreme Court in 3 bands. Oddly, without any evidence, the national regulatory body for lawyers threw all principles of law out of the window and decided to issue a show cause notice to Suhasini Sen (whose name featured in the 3rd band), after using the words “sinister purpose”, “ill methods” and “mischief” to describe her. Suhasini happens to be one of the most ethical, intelligent, industrious and compassionate lawyers we have at the Supreme Court.

It was clear to anybody who looked at the website that it was the handiwork of a father-son lawyer duo, one of whom has also been named in the BCI release. As the website has been suddenly removed this morning, I attach the screenshots.

Does the BCI always put its disciplinary show cause notices out in press releases which are then shared quickly on social media? This causes irreversible damage to the morale of lawyers, and to the BCI itself. A retraction and apology to Suhasini are immediately in order.

Did BCI find something?

That said, the website is pretty awful and the BCI notes that “many similar types of Advertisements are being made and advertised and highlighted more, even though such websites may have been existing discreetly before Lockdown, and was not brought to our attention earlier”.

“This is just one of such many websites,” the BCI noted, adding that: “The common Advocates and regular practitioners and a large number of deserving and busy Advocates are unable to oppose such mischief and such mal-practices are increasing day by day.”

Since it’s not like the BCI has earned many laurels in cleaning up such malpractice in the profession to date, it completely makes sense that it would single out a single website and make an example of whoever it believed had made the website.

And it could be that the BCI had at least partially correctly identified Raahul Trivedi as potentially being responsible for the website (despite copying his name incorrectly).

The toplawyersetc internet domain name registration records, according to the whois tool, were made under an address that matches Trivedi’s office address, according to Google maps (Chamber No.17, New Lawyers Chambers, MC. Setalvad Block, Bhagwan Dass Marg, Supreme Court).

Furthermore, both toplawyersofsupremecourtofindia and Trivedi & Associates’ website have been taken offline since the press release, though both can still be accessed via siteGoogle Cache links and other online archives.

(Regarding the latter, the firm describes itself as “the leading and one of the top most law firm /group of Lawyers of Hon’ble Supreme Court of India, New Delhi quite famous for its way of working / dealing with cases with super care and with full responsibility”).

Now, do note that theoretically it’s possible to supply fake records in domain name registrations, and we have reached out for comment to Trivedi via WhatsApp, as well as the email address listed in the domain’s Whois records.

In any case, it is certain that the BCI will eventually get to the bottom of this mystery with its due diligence and care.

That, or get sued for defamation.

BCI press release (PDF)

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