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    IndiaMadras HC asks for ‘Sustainable’ minimum stipend to Junior Lawyers

    Madras HC asks for ‘Sustainable’ minimum stipend to Junior Lawyers

    Date:

    Young practitioners from outside find high cost of living untenable

    In a significant ruling, the Madras High Court has directed the Bar Council of Tamil Nadu and Puducherry to ensure that an advocate or senior advocate employing the services of junior advocates in major cities of Chennai, Coimbatore and Madurai pay them a minimum stipend of ₹20,000 per month. The court also said that in other cities of Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry junior advocates must be paid a minimum ₹15,000. The court elucidated that it had arrived at the minimum stipend by taking into consideration the cost of living and current expenditure costs in these cities.

    A Bench of Justices S.M. Subramaniam and S. Kumarappan passed an Order to this effect. The Bench held that once the services of junior lawyers are utilised, there arises a consequential right on their part to get paid for the services rendered.

    “Though they are here to learn, their livelihood also must be given importance and efforts must be made to ensure that their economic instability does not come in their way of learning. The success of any profession is weighed based on the future we create for the newcomers in that profession,” the Bench observed, adding that the right to a livelihood under Article 21 of the Constitution of extends to junior advocates also.

    The Bench referred to Section 6 of the Advocates Act, 1961 which speaks of functions of a state Bar Council. Section 6(1)(d) stipulates that the rights, privileges and interests of advocates on their rolls are to be safeguarded by the respective state Bar Councils.

    The Bench observed that young lawyers face numerous challenges and their enthusiasm for the profession should not be stifled solely by economic factors.“Many youngsters are forced to quit the profession due to economic instability in the profession. A fair question may be put forth, Isn't it a common challenge faced in all professions?,” the Bench asked.

    The ruling of the Madras High Court is in contrast to what the Delhi High Court had held in 2022. It had refused to issue a writ of mandamus to the Bar Council of Delhi directing it to provide stipends of ₹5,000 to the young advocates.

    The Delhi High Court was of the view that young professionals in all fields, be it from medicine, chartered accountancy, architecture and engineering etc., face problems that are similar to the ones being faced by young advocates.

    Job opportunities are scarce and persons competing for these limited job opportunities are far too many which makes the competition arduous and the services of an individual dispensable, the court had remarked.

    The Delhi High Court had added that the court, while exercising its writ jurisdiction, cannot single out the legal profession alone and hold that only young advocates have the right to claim a stipend.

    The court had said that it could only make an appeal to seniors in the profession to ensure that the stipend that is paid to their juniors is enough for the juniors to evade the financial stress that accompanies the legal profession and allows them to lead a more dignified life.

    “We further appeal to them to be more mindful of the financial background of their juniors and employ a more empathetic approach towards the same, considering the virtuosity of this profession,” the Delhi High Court had remarked.

    On the other hand, the Kerala government integrated a scheme mandating a monthly stipend of ₹3,000 for junior lawyers in Kerala. Lawyers below 30 years of age with less than three years of practice and an annual income of less than ₹1 lakh are eligible for the stipend.

    In its Order, the Madras High Court also berated the common message that is given to lawyers by seniors that they too had gone through all kinds of difficulties to be heard, so juniors should be ready to face the same. The Bench termed such insensitive.

    “Why should our future lawyers be made to undergo the same difficulties we encountered? Why can't we come together to provide them with a safe and robust ecosystem? This should be the vision we must create for ourselves in today's time and age,” the Bench exhorted.

    The Bench observed that earlier, access to professional courses such as law was reserved only for people with privileged backgrounds. But today, constitutional ideals played a pivotal role in creating a pathway for all young graduates to come from multi-cultural, multi-social, multi-economic and diverse backgrounds.

    The Bench also underlined that many young practitioners in the legal field come to the big cities in which they practise from outside and therefore the cost of living for them increases manifold. “Our profession also is proud to possess a seizable number of first generation lawyers and it is only their minimum need and expectations that they earn a monthly stipend to cover their cost of living,” the Bench observed.

    The Bench thus emphasised better payment to young lawyers as a way to ensure diversity and equality in the legal field.The petitioners had sought suitable directions to the governments of Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry and the Bar Council of Bar Council of Tamil Nadu and Puducherry to implement and enforce The Advocates' Welfare Fund Act, 2001.

    The Act was enacted to provide for the constitution of a welfare fund for the benefit of advocates. Section 3 provides for the constitution of an “Advocates' Welfare Fund”.Section 4 provides for the formation of a trustee committee to be called the “Advocates' Welfare Fund Trustee Committee”. The Advocate-General of the State is an ex-officio chairperson of the trust.

    Under this Act, it is the trustee committee which receives applications from members and disperses money to them. The Act also makes provision for providing ex gratia relief to members of the fund. “Member of the fund” means an advocate admitted to the benefits of the fund and who continues to be a member thereof under the provisions of this Act.

    The Bench noted several welfare schemes had been introduced by the government to provide aid and assistance to junior lawyers, but it refused to venture into these schemes.Instead, it said the vision was to create an inbuilt system to support juniors by providing them with support systems to thrive on.

    Having said so, the Bench directed the Bar Council of Tamil Nadu and Puducherry, the Government of Puducherry and recognised associations at Pondicherry and Karaikal to coordinate and finalise the proposal for amendment of Schedule-I to enhance the Welfare Fund Scheme amount submitted by the trust committee as expeditiously as possible, preferably within four months. Schedule I of the Act specifies the rate at which the amount is payable.

    The Order is the latest take on a vexatious issue that has caused much controversy and divided opinions in the Bar and Bench over the years.Junior lawyers are not only constantly underpaid and struggling to make ends meet, but they also have to deal with hostile work environments and long hours of work.

     

    Recently, a report surfaced with a leaked email, purportedly written by a partner at a Mumbai-headquartered law firm, expressing her anger at her three associates for embarrassing her in front of the case team.

     

    Naming the three associates individually in an email marked to several team members, the senior attorney blasted the three for their behaviour and for delivering a shoddy work product. This episode sparked a debate on professional etiquette and toxic work in law firms.

     

    Speaking to The Quint, lawyer Manish Kumar expressed his plight saying that he had to sell his car— a Volkswagen Polo— because he was unable to bear the expenses as his salary was so low.“I start my day at 8.30 a.m. and log in 12–14 hours a day, for at least 25 days in a month, just for ₹10,000,” he said.

     

    Speaking at a function organised by the Bar Council of India (BCI) in 2022, the Chief Justice of India Dr D.Y. Chandrachud (CJI) had urged senior advocates to pay their junior advocates decent salaries.“If you are staying in Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru or Kolkata, how much does it cost for a young lawyer to survive? They have to pay rent and the cost of transportation and food.”

     

    “For far too long, we have regarded the youngsters in our profession as slave workers. Because that is how we grew up,” he had said, adding that this is the “old ragging principle” in Delhi University. “This must change, and the burden of doing that is on us, as senior members of the profession.”

     

    What the CJI said was also against the “old Bombay practice” of seniors not paying juniors since they think they are doing them a favour.

     

    Former CJI U.U. Lalit, when asked to give “advice to young lawyers who are overworked and underpaid”, acknowledged that it was a common grievance among young lawyers, and asked them to “have patience, confidence, and belief in themselves” so that they are able to “turn the tide”. (IPA Service)

     

     

    Courtesy: The Leaflet

    Northlines
    Northlines
    The Northlines is an independent source on the Web for news, facts and figures relating to Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh and its neighbourhood.

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