Kerala High Court directs Bar Council of Kerala to collect only ₹750 as enrolment fees from law graduates until BCI sets uniform fee

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A division bench of the Kerala High Court recently directed the Bar Council of Kerala (BCK) to collect enrolment fees of ₹750 only from law graduates who wish to enroll as advocates, until the Bar Council of India (BCI) lays down a uniform fee structure applicable to all State Bar Councils [The Bar Council of Kerala v Akshai M Sivan].

A single-judge of the Court had earlier passed an interim order in February this year directing the BCK to provisionally accept enrolment applications by the law graduates upon payment of ₹750.

However, the benefit of that 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 filed an appeal against the interim order before a division bench.

When the appeal came up before the bench of Chief Justice SV Bhatti and Justice Basant Balaji on June 12, the bench passed an order extending the benefit of the single-judge’s order to all law graduates wishing to enroll in the State.

“To a pointed query from the Court, learned senior counsel appearing for the Bar Council of Kerala has stated that so far as the petitioners are concerned by accepting Rs.750/- enrolment fee, the enrolment of respective petitioners has been completed. In the fitness of things in the exercise of our jurisdiction, by according to the petitioners herein, the representative status to agitate the grievance for and on behalf of similarly situated graduates, who would be interested in getting enrolled on the rolls of the Bar Council of Kerala, we extend the same benefit to such of the aspirants as well. Such a course would avoid a series of individual cases by the aspirants” the Court stated.

The single judge’s order had come on a plea moved by ten law graduates of the 2019-22 batch from the Government Law College, Ernakulam challenging the fee of ₹15,900 that the BCK was charging

The petitioners argued that such fees amounted to an “insurmountable financial hurdle” for them and many other students.

The plea alleged that the BCK was acting beyond the scope of its rule-making power by framing rules to levy an amount higher than ₹750 prescribed by the Advocates Act.

In the appeal moved by BCK, it was contended that there is no statutory bar imposed on the State Bar Council from levying the requisite charges to satisfy the conditions of enrolment from the candidates.

When the matter was considered last, counsel for BCK informed the division bench that all the original petitioners will be allowed to enrol on paying ₹750 subject to the final decision of the matter by the High Court.

It was also submitted that pursuant to the directions of the Supreme Court in this regard, the Bar Council of India is to convene a meeting for fixing a uniform fee for enrolment applicable to all Bar Councils in India. The BCK will also be attending the meeting and would take a decision after that, the bench was told.

The Court then passed an order extending the benefit of the interim order to all law graduates.

The appeal will be heard next after two months.

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