RECENTLY, the President of the Bar Council of India (BCI) has said to the Chief Justice that up to 45 per cent of lawyers in the country are possibly fake — they either have fake degrees or no degrees at all. The BCI is the regulatory body for lawyers. This council, established by the Parliament, is responsible for prescribing legal education standards as well as regulating professional conduct of lawyers and representing their interests. Coming from this prestigious body, the revelation that almost half of the country's lawyers are fake is appalling and disturbing in equal measure.
With over 1.3 million lawyers, the number is substantial. Lawyers are, one might say, the most visible functionaries in the justice system. They are meant to be a link between the litigants and the judges — usually being the first port of call for legal assistance. This news, that almost half of the lawyers can possibly be fake will come as an extremely unsettling revelation to the 3 crore plus people awaiting justice. It will be an equally alarming situation or the country as a whole.
In India we have what is referred to as the adversarial system. The judge plays the role of an umpire for most part — officiating on proceedings but staying neutral for the most part. She, upon hearing arguments from both sides decides which version is true and sound and rule in its favour. This means the lawyers have a tremendously important role to play. What they present to the judge, one of those versions will be treated as the truth, convictions and judgments based on it. This requires, first of all, an excellent quality of lawyers. It also requires an equality of arms — if one of those versions is to be believed to be the truth, it requires that both parties are at an equal footing. This necessitates that the lawyers are of a certain standard.
Historically lawyers in India, as in the world have enjoyed a good reputation for most part. Perhaps the most famous of them is Gandhi. In his autobiography, he gives many instances from his practice of ethical dilemmas. Another famous personality if of course Nehru, a barrister by training, it is said that his crisp writing speaks of a scientific, legal precision. Ambedkar, another lawyer displayed exceptional precision of language and foresight. Sardar Vallabhai Patel was another legal luminary. In recent past there have been similar greats in the fraternity. The profession, as a whole has been one of maintaining honour and dignity. The proceedings of the courts have an almost sacred feel to them.
The other side however is completely the opposite. In Bleak House, for instance, Dickens gives a condemning critique of the English judicial system. Rather more piercingly, a Shakespearean character in Henry VI says: “The first thing we do, Let's kill all the Lawyers!” Literal interpretation of this leaves little scope for forgiveness. However, a more nuanced interpretation is to read this in context and appreciate it for the sarcasm. We simply can't kill all lawyers— it will be illegal to begin with!
In an ideal world, there would be no conflicts and no need for lawyers. This utopian society would not have any disputes and no need to resolve them. We are certainly far from this fairy-tale utopian paradise. As people of the real world, disputes will happen for as long as there are different people. Thus the work of lawyers is indispensable.
What is required, perhaps most immediately, is the strengthening the reputation of lawyers. We have a rich legacy and a vibrant justice system. To ensure it stays this way and improves, we need to ensure lawyers are of a certain standard. Being the largest, and in many ways, the biggest component of the judicial system, there is a societal obligation on each one of us to ensure standards of the legal system are maintained. The BCI has started its culling. It is for us to continue this dialogue.
The writer is Assistant Director, Centre for Penology, Criminal Justice and Police Studies, OP Jindal Global University, Sonepat.