The Delhi High Court today urged the Bar Council of Delhi (BCD) to take a decision on enabling a completely online enrolment process as expeditiously as possible.
By the same order, the Court also declined to entertain a challenge to the BCD Rules requiring submission of proof that the candidate resides in Delhi or the NCR area for enrolment.
However, the Court asked the BCD to consider postponing compliance with this condition on a case-to-case basis, if a candidate is facing difficulties owing to the COVID-19 pandemic or where there are exceptional circumstances.
Justice Prathiba M Singh today noted that the BCD appeared to have taken sufficient steps to enable the enrolment of advocates during the pandemic. The Court took on record that over 5,000 advocates have been enrolled since July 2020 through the (partial) online enrolment process put in place by the BCD.
The Court has now asked the BCD to continue to endeavour to make the process as transparent and convenient as possible moving forward. Pertinently, the judge called on the BCD to consider and take an expeditious decision on aspects such as:
- Making available online forms and accepting documents online
- Facilitating the payment of enrolment fee online
- Exemption from physical appearance for completing the enrolment process.
Under the online system that was put in place by BCD, the enrolment form was made available online, but the candidates had to physically go to the Bar Council office to complete the process. Online payment of the enrolment fee was also made possible, the Court was told.
The case before the Court
The Court was hearing writ petitions moved by two law graduates seeking a direction to the Bar Council of Delhi to accept their enrolment applications in electronic form.
Both candidates have been granted provisional enrolment and wrote or will be writing the All-India Bar Examination (AIBE) this year, the Court was told. Therefore, the Court disposed of their petitions today.
Appearing for one of the petitioners, Advocate Abhijat contended that while the online application is one thing, “online payments and online enrolment is another.”
He submitted that the BCD ought to be futuristic in their endeavours and expressed hope that the authorities would take more steps to make the enrolment process online.
Appearing for the BCD, Advocate Ajayinder Sangwan argued that the pandemic situation is much better now and that the last round of the AIBE was also conducted physically on January 24 this year. As such, he contended that the writ petitions were filed only based on apprehensions.
Justice Singh responded that the case should not be viewed in adversarial terms, and sought information on how many enrolments took place since March last year. Sangwan, in turn, submitted that around 8,000 enrolments have taken place since last March.
“Now you are going to make it offline?” the Court asked.
“It is already offline,” Sangwan replied.
However, he added that an IT Committee had been formed and that a proposal to give online forms will be placed shortly before the Full House of the BCD. Once approved, online forms would be given to candidates, the Court was told.
On submission of address proof for BCD enrolment
Appearing as party-in-person in a related matter, Abhishek Anand also made prayers for enrolment. The Court was informed today that he too had been provisionally enrolled.
Pertinently, his petition also sought to challenge the BCD Rules requiring the submission of rental agreement or proof of residence in Delhi or NCR for enrolment in Delhi.
Anand argued that such a condition is against the spirit of Section 25 of the Advocates Act, which allows lawyers to practice anywhere in India. He added that the same also violates Article 19 (1)(g) of the Constitution (right to practise any profession, or to carry on any occupation, trade or business).
Justice Singh, however, responded that this condition is not unreasonable. During the hearing, she pointed out that advocates enrolled in the Bar Councils of other states are not barred from practising in Delhi. Further, she noted that the BCD is empowered to regulate the conditions based on which a person may be admitted as an advocate on its rolls under Section 28 of the Advocates Act.
During the hearing, Sangwan also opposed Anand’s case on this count, arguing that if candidates are exempted from submitting proof of residence, it will create difficulties for the BCD as “everyone (from other States) will come and say enrol us.”
In this regard, Sangwan pointed out that BCD imposes the cheapest enrolment fee across India and, additionally, offers the maximum welfare schemes.
“That is why we have maximum enrolment,” he submitted.
The Court proceeded to decline the challenge made by the petitioner, although Justice Singh directed the BCD to consider postponing the compliance with the condition on a case-to-case basis if a candidate faces COVID-19 related difficulties or other extenuating circumstances.
Whereas Advocate Sangwan expressed that such a direction may also create difficulties for the Bar Council, the Court asked the BCD to send their Rules on the issue so the Court can consider the same.
As the hearing ended today, Anand reiterated the prayer that the BCD should start online enrolment. Justice Singh responded that the Court has asked them to decide on the matter expeditiously.
“… we cannot direct them, it is a policy decision,” she observed.
Advocate Sangwan, in turn, recalled that letters are being written everyday to the High Court’s Chief Justice for the resumption of physical courts. As such, he added that the BCD was not in favour of virtual systems.
When the petitioner continued to press for virtual alternatives, given the lesson that the pandemic has taught, Justice Singh responded,
“The pandemic has gone; we are resuming physical court now.”
She proceeded to dispose of all petitions in the matter.
The lead petitioner was represented by Advocates Abhijat, Sanam Tripathi and Shaashwat Jindal.