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Law min thinks about making pro bono advocates database to help pick judges • Great, but why not let them apply directly?

Should advocates doing pro bono get preference in judicial appointments? Why not, if we can come up with a good definition of what pro bono is and how to judge it
Should advocates doing pro bono get preference in judicial appointments? Why not, if we can come up with a good definition of what pro bono is and how to judge it

The law ministry has asked Bar Council of India (BCI) chairman Manan Kumar Mishra in a letter to help it create a list of lawyers who are willing to act pro bono in cases, which could end up being “one of the proposed yardstick (sic) to be considered for appointment as Judges of High Courts”.

According to the letter dated 10 November 2016, which was first reported by Live Law today, the government is tentatively proposing the following:

We are planning to create a data base of those advocates who meet the crieteria of 44-55 yeras age and minimum annual professional net income of Rs Five Lakh and above for the last 5 years...

In this context I shall be grateful if you could circulate to Advocates who fulfil the criteria and who wish to work in providing pro bono assistance to needy litigants to enable the Department to form a data base.

The details provided by such advocates will be used for assisting needy litigants and in case required by Department of Justice.

First off, this is a fantastic idea in theory: giving an incentive to do pro bono would be a strong move by the law ministry (even if judgeship is not necessarily attractive to all advocates). And creating a database of lawyers willing to do pro bono would be a good step forward to making legal advice more accessible.

Of course, many devils will lie in the details and in practice there may be a couple of roadblocks: for one, the BCI does not even know how many lawyers there are in India, let alone how many of them do pro bono.

Second, making the overburdened BCI a gatekeeper to a database of pro bono advocates rather than letting advocates apply directly to the government if they want to do pro bono, could create another rather narrow bottleneck in the creation of the database.

Third, even deciding what constitutes as pro bono could be a minefield: does helping a relative out for free count? Or would it be only about helping litigants that are in the government’s good books (and not ones who are challenging government policy for instance)?

We have reached out to the BCI and Mishra to ask whether any response has been sent to the law ministry letter since November.

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