The Supreme Court on Monday transferred to itself petitions challenging the high enrolment fees levied by various State Bar Councils, which were earlier pending before different High Courts. [Bar Council of India v. Akshai Sivan]
A Bench of Chief Justice of India (CJI) DY Chandrachud with Justices PS Narasimha and Manoj Misra on Monday allowed a petition moved by the Bar Council of India (BCI) to transfer all such cases to the apex court.
In its transfer petition, the BCI had pointed out that there were cases pending before the High Courts of Kerala, Madras and Bombay on this issue.
Earlier this month, the apex court issued notice to the Bar Councils of Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Goa in the matter.
“You may issue rules etc. but collecting enrolment fees…don’t know. We will have to see,” the CJI had remarked at the time.
The BCI had submitted that the pleas before various High Courts deal with the same questions of law relating to the constitutional validity of fees chargeable at the time of enrolment. It emphasised that transferring the petitions would prevent the wastage of judicial time and that the matter could be authoritatively decided by the top court. The plea was filed through M/s Ram Sankar & Co.
The transfer petition was filed in the wake of a Kerala High Court order passed last June, directing the Bar Council of Kerala (BCK) to collect a reduced enrolment fee of ₹750 from law graduates who wished to enrol as advocates, until the BCI lays down a uniform fee structure applicable to all State Bar Councils.
Before this, a single-judge of the High Court had passed an interim order in February directing the BCK to provisionally accept enrolment applications by the petitioner-law graduates upon the payment of ₹750.
The benefit of the February order was limited only to the petitioners in the case, who had challenged the BCK’s decision to collect ₹15,900 as enrolment fees.
The BCK then filed an appeal against the interim order before a Division Bench. When the appeal came up before the High Court Bench of Chief Justice SV Bhatti (now elevated to the Supreme Court) and Justice Basant Balaji on June 12, the benefit of the single-judge’s order was extended to all law graduates wishing to enrol in the State.
Meanwhile, a petition challenging notifications issued by the Bar Council of Maharashtra and Goa enhancing enrolment fees to ₹15,000, effective from January 2020, was pending before the Bombay High Court.
Recently, the BCI also informed the Punjab & Haryana High Court that it would take necessary steps to deal with the issue of exorbitant enrolment fees charged by State Bar Councils.
Earlier this year, the top court had sought responses from State Bar Councils on a plea challenging the non-uniform and exorbitant enrolment fees collected by different State Bar Councils.
In response to that petition, the Bar Council of Maharashtra and Goa justified its decision to hike its advocate enrolment fees to ₹15,000, reasoning that such an increase was on account of inflation and the expenses it has to bear for the welfare of advocates.