Govt cannot reduce lawyers to the level of contract workers by fixing ceiling for their fees, says HC

Justice C.V. Karthikeyan says the profession of law is a complicated one requiring high level of legal acumen and law officers are the ones who get government policies upheld before courts of law

March 05, 2023 12:56 am | Updated 12:56 am IST - CHENNAI

The profession of law is a complicated one requiring high level of legal acumen and therefore, the government could not reduce such a professional wedded to the nuances of law to the level of a contract worker by fixing a ceiling for the fees that could be claimed by him/her even while appearing in arbitration matters and civil suits, the Madras High Court has held.

Justice C.V. Karthikeyan made the observations while passing common orders on three writ petitions filed by designated Senior Counsel and former Additional Advocate General V. Ayyadurai in 2020 and 2021 complaining that the government had not settled his bills in full for having represented the government in various arbitration proceedings involving high stakes.

The judge held that two Government Orders - one passed on May 8, 2018 and another on July 23, 2019 - fixing a ceiling of ₹10 lakh for the law officers were “an insult to the legal profession.” He also declared the two G.O.s as extremely arbitrary and irrational in nature though the writ petitioner had not directly challenged the validity of the G.O.s.

“The government has a duty to ensure the dignity of the legal profession. I am deeply distressed by the wordings in the G.O.s. They have no connection to the efforts put by a law officer. It is not known on what basis that amount was fixed as being just and equitable. It is just another amount fixed by the executive. It cannot be thrust on a professional,” he wrote.

The judge said a lawyer had to consult the clients for preparing pre suit notices, representations or petitions and then draft plaints to be presented before courts. “All these steps are taken within the chambers of a legal professional. It is only thereafter that the appearance in the court commences,” he said.

“Apart from the preparedness on facts, spontaneity by the counsel is required to answer all questions. Thereafter, arguments will have to be advanced in applications or in suits or appeals. These would require special preparation. The facts should be on the fingertips of every professional to cross examine the other side witness,” he said.

“The legislators pass the law. The executive drafts the laws but it is only on the arguments advanced in a court of law that the laws which are drafted and passed are actually upheld as intra vires the Constitution,” the judge said, highlighting the importance of law officers in getting the policies of the government upheld before courts of law.

“The value of an advocate representing the government is immeasurable. It may be a small case, it may be a big case, still the government has to be protected. The dignity and sanctity of the government is in the hands of its law officers. These are facts which a bureaucrat would never ever understand,” the judge observed before directing the government to consider the bills presented by the writ petitioner.

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