The recently amended Bar Council of India (BCI) Rules that prohibit criticism of the regulatory body as well as State Bar Councils across the country have been challenged before the Supreme Court.
The petition filed by two law practitioners from Mumbai and Kerala seeks urgent intervention by the Supreme Court to stay the operation of the impugned Rules and declare them unconstitutional and void.
Section V and V-A added to Part VI, Chapter II of The Bar Council of India Rules have been challenged in the Supreme Court for being violative of the Advocates Act, 1961 and Articles 14, 19(1) (c)and 21.
The Rules under challenge lay down that ‘criticism’ and ‘attack’ on the Bar Council by its members would be grounds for disqualification, suspension or removal of membership from the Bar Council.
The petition states,
“It is unthinkable for a body like that of the Bar Council of India to bring an amendment of such ramifications, stifling the very freedom of speech and expression without which the very right to life is meaningless, keeping the Bar and the public at large in darkness.”
It is contended that the BCI has no legislative powers, and the only power vested in it is to give effect to the Advocates Act. The impugned Rules are ultra vires of this legislation, and BCI has no power to make any substantive law taking away or abridging legal and fundamental rights, the petition stated.
Further, the petitioners argue that the Rules do not protect the citizens but “any Court or judge or any member of judiciary or (against) State Bar Council or Bar Council of India” and that there are enough and more provisions to protect them.
“Nobody, today, would feel the need for any further legal protection to the judges. Far from a cry for providing further protection to the members of the judiciary, the demand of the civic society, today, is for greater freedom to fearlessly express injustice and sufferings in the justice delivery system.”
Another submission by the petitioners is that defamation falls within the ambit of private law and public authorities like the BCI cannot suffer a legal injury of this nature.
While attempting to gauge the intent behind the Rules, the petitioners reached the irresistible conclusion that the BCI wants to protect itself against any kind of criticism.
“An Advocate does not in law surrender his constitutional and legal rights, and the protection which Articles 14, 19 and 21 guarantee, only because he/she has enrolled as an Advocate with the Bar Council.”
The new amendment was notified in the gazette on June 25.