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Legal Profession in India


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The history of the legal profession in India can be traced back to the establishment of the First British Court in Bombay in 1672 by Governor Aungier. The admission of attorneys was placed in the hands of the Governor-in-Council and not with the Court. Prior to the establishment of the Mayor’s Courts in 1726 in Madras and Calcutta, there were no legal practitioners.

The Mayor’s Courts, established in the three presidency towns, were Crown Courts with right of appeal first to the Governor-in-Council and a right of the second appeal to the Privy Council. In 1791, Judges felt the need of experience, and thus the role of an attorney to protect the rights of his client was upheld in each of the Mayor’s Courts. 

This was done in spite of opposition from Council members or the Governor. A second principle was also established during the period of the Mayor’s Courts. This was the right to dismiss an attorney guilty of misconduct. The first example of dismissal was recorded by the Mayor’s Court at Madras which dismissed attorney Jones.

The Supreme Court of Judicature was established by a Royal Charter in 1774. The Supreme Court was established as there was dissatisfaction with the weaknesses of the Court of the Mayor. Similar Supreme Courts were established in Madras in 1801 and Bombay in 1823. The first barristers appeared in India after the opening of the Supreme Court in Calcutta in 1774. 

As barristers began to come into the Courts on work as advocates, the attorneys gave up pleading and worked as solicitors. The two grades of legal practice gradually became distinct and separate as they were in England. Madras gained its first barrister in 1778 with Mr. Benjamin Sullivan.

Thus, the establishment of the Supreme Court brought recognition, wealth, and prestige to the legal profession. The charters of the Court stipulated that the Chief Justice and three puisne Judges be English barristers of at least 5 years standing.

The charters empowered the Court to approve, admit, and enroll advocates and attorneys to plead and act on behalf of suitors. They also gave the Court the authority to remove lawyers from the roll of the Court on reasonable cause and to prohibit practitioners not properly admitted and enrolled from practicing in the Court. 

The Court maintained the right to admit, discipline, and dismiss attorneys and barristers. Attorneys were not admitted without a recommendation from a high official in England or a Judge in India. Permission to practice in Court could be refused even to a barrister.

In contrast to the Courts in the presidency towns, the legal profession in the mofussil towns was established, guided, and controlled by legislation. In the Diwani Courts, legal practice was neither recognized nor controlled, and practice was carried on by vakils and agents. Vakils had even been appearing in the Courts of the Nawabs and there were no laws concerning their qualification, relationship to the Court, mode of procedure of ethics, or practice. 

There were two kinds of agents – 

untrained relatives or servants of the parties in Court and b. professional pleaders who had training in either Hindu or Muslim law. Bengal Regulation VII of 1793 was enacted as it was felt that in order to administer justice, Courts, must have pleading of causes administered by a distinct profession Only men of character and education, well versed in the Mohamedan or Hindu law and in the Regulations passed by the British Government, would be admitted to plead in the Courts. 

They should be subjected to rules and restrictions in order to discharge their work diligently and faithfully by upholding the client’s trust. Establishment of the High Courts

In 1862, the High Courts started by the Crown were established at Calcutta, Bombay, and Madras. The High Court Bench was designed to combine the Supreme Court and Sudder Court traditions. This was done to unite the legal learning and judicial experience of the English barristers with the intimate experience of civil servants in matters of Indian customs, usages, and laws possessed by the civil servants. 

Each of the High Courts was given the power to make rules for the qualifications of proper persons, advocates, vakils, and attorneys at Bar. The admission of vakils to practice before the High Courts ended the monopoly that the barristers had enjoyed in the Supreme Courts. 

It greatly extended the practice and prestige of the Indian laws by giving them opportunities and privileges equal to those enjoyed for many years by the English lawyers. 

The learning of the best British traditions of Indian vakils began in a guru- shishya tradition: “Men like Sir V. Bashyam Ayyangar, Sir T. Muthuswamy Ayyar, and Sir S. Subramania Ayyar were quick to learn and absorb the traditions of the English Bar from their English friends and colleagues in the Madras Bar and they in turn as the originators of a long line of disciples in the Bar passed on those traditions to the disciples who continued to do the good work.” Additional High Courts were established in Allahabad (1886), Patna (1916), and Lahore (1919).

There were six grades of legal practice in India after the founding of the High Courts – 

a) Advocates,

b) Attorneys (Solicitors),

c) Vakils of High Courts,

d) Pleaders,

e) Mukhtars,

f) Revenue Agents.

The Legal Practitioners Act of 1879 in fact brought all the six grades of the profession into one system under the jurisdiction of the High Courts. The Legal Practitioners Act and the Letters Patent of the High Courts formed the chief legislative governance of legal practitioners in the subordinate Courts in the country until the Advocates Act, 1961 was enacted. 

In order to be a vakil, the candidate had to study at a college or university, master the use of English and pass a vakil’s examination. By 1940, a vakil was required to be a graduate with an LL.B. from a university in India in addition to three other certified requirements. 

The certificate should be proof that a. he had passed in the examination b. read in the chamber of a qualified lawyer and was of a good character. In fact, Sir Sunder Lal, Jogendra Nath Chaudhary, Ram Prasad and Moti Lal Nehru were all vakils who were raised to the rank of an Advocate. Original and appellate jurisdiction of the High Court.

The High Courts of the three presidency towns had an original side. The original side included major civil and criminal matters which had been earlier heard by predecessor Supreme Courts. On the original side in the High Courts, the solicitor and barrister remained distinct i.e. attorney and advocate. On the appellate side, every lawyer practiced as his own attorney.

However, in Madras, the vakils started to practice in 1866. In 1874, the barristers challenged their right to do original site work. However, in 1916, this right was firmly established in favor of the vakils. Similarly, vakils in Bombay and Calcutta could be promoted as advocates and become qualified to work on the original side. 

By attending the appellate side and original side Courts each for one year, a vakil of 10 years service in the Court was permitted to sit for the advocates’ examination.

Indian Bar Councils Act, 1926.

The Indian Bar Councils Act, 1926 was passed to unify the various grades of legal practice and to provide self-government to the Bars attached to various Courts. The Act required that each High Court must constitute a Bar Council made up of the Advocate General, four men nominated by the High Court of whom two should be Judges, and ten elected from among the advocates of the Bar. 

The duties of the Bar Council were to decide all matters concerning legal education, qualification for enrolment, discipline, and control of the profession. It was favorable to the advocates as it gave them authority previously held by the judiciary to regulate the membership and discipline of their profession.

The Advocates Act, 1961 was a step to further this very initiative. As a result of the Advocates Act, admission, practice, ethics, privileges, regulations, discipline and improvement of the profession, as well as law reform, are now significantly in the hands of the profession itself.

CourtesyAdvocacy, Professional Ethics, and Accountancy for Lawyers Course Materials Prepared by Madhu Bhatti, Ankeeta Gupta, Mehpara Haq, Faculty of Law, University of Delhi

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