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Advocates Act amendment ‘next session’, says BCI chair, as gag order shrouds reform talks in secrecy

But can fixing the profession (and potentially liberalising it) happen this quickly or is the BCI chairman being optimistic?

BCI talks about future of legal profession are top secret under strict media gag order
BCI talks about future of legal profession are top secret under strict media gag order

The Bar Council of India (BCI) talks to come up with a new proposal to reform its regulation of the legal profession, have been shrouded in secrecy due to a media gag order since October.

However, scant details are beginning to emerge: BCI chairman Manan Kumar Mishra has reportedly told a bar association event in Patna on Saturday that an amendment to the Advocates Act 1961 would be tabled in Parliament’s next session (which is likely to be scheduled from February to May 2017) and would include the BCI’s recommendation to increase lawyers’ pensions and introduce stipends for young lawyers. The Times of India reported:

Addressing a function on the premises of Ara civil court to mark the completion of 125 years of District Bar Association, Mishra said following the Centre’s directive, the BCI had constituted a committee under a retired judge of the Supreme Court to suggest amendments to Advocates Act. “The amended law would be tabled in the next session of Parliament. Recommendations have been made to provide pension, family pension and stipend to the junior lawyers,” Mishra added.

It is hard to say whether Mishra, who is from Patna, was mostly electioneering in his statements or is privy to inside information on the government’s plans. In any case, the possibility and timing of a potential amendment to the Advocates Act will be significant, especially if the Government continues to be serious in its liberalisation plans to allow foreign law firms to enter.

We have reached out to Mishra for comment.

Another question is also whether the Law Commission can prepare its report on the legal profession fast enough: the current term of former judge BS Chauhan that started in March 2016, has so far only recently seen the publication of a questionnaire on the uniform civil code (Chauhan’s predecessor AP Shah had produced a record number of reports during his tenure).

Secret panel

The BCI’s panel was constituted after the Supreme Court had asked the Law Commission in July to look into proposals to reform the BCI’s regulation of the profession, which was taken up rapidly by the Law Commission.

The BCI committee is chaired by former Supreme Court judge Shivaraj V Patil, who retired in 2005, and is understood to have solicited submissions from a number of other retired judges and senior lawyers.

The Society of Indian Law Firms (Silf) had also been invited to the table by the BCI to help it frame new regulations, as we reported in October.

However, the substance of the BCI’s talks have been shrouded in secrecy, with a strict gag order issued by the BCI on participants.

Silf chairman Lalit Bhasin had told us in October via email: "No comments as we cannot talk to the media.”

Mishra did not respond to a request for comment at the time.

It is understood that the BCI has taken back to the drawing board the draft of its reform proposals that we had published on 12 October.

Under that hefty proposal, the BCI was seeking to formally recognise and regulate bar associations, law firms and foreign lawyers, as well as delay the practice of young lawyers to higher courts, and increase the damages for professional misconduct.

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