Dr. Surat Singh is a top Lawyer and Jurist of India. He practices at Supreme Court of India and Delhi High Court. He is also an international lawyer. He was educated at Delhi (India), Oxford (England) and Harvard (America). With his three masters’ degrees in law from Delhi, Oxford and Harvard and his Doctor of Laws (S.J.D) from Harvard, he is arguably the highest educated lawyer of India.

But Dr. Surat Singh is more than a lawyer. He is also a thinker and a Jurist. He is equally well-versed in both Western and Eastern Philosophy. In fact, in addition to obtaining highest degree of law from Harvard (S.J.D), he is also Vidya Vachaspati(an authority on Vedas and Bhagwat Gita).

He has been invited more than 500 times to express his views on various topics both by National and International Media including B.B.C. World Service, All India Radio, NDTV India, Zee TV.

He has been widely acknowledged for his contribution to the society in the field of Law and Justice, promoting Democratic form of Government and strengthening international relations.  Incidentally, he happens to be the classmate of American President Barack Obama at Harvard Law School during 1988-90. In fact, he was one of the special Invitees from India to attend his historic Inaugural Ceremony at Washington D.C. on 20th January 2009. Understandably, Dr. Surat Singh had actively campaigned for re-election of President Obama. He attended President Obama’s second inaugural ceremony on 20th January, 2013.

Many of his friends and well wishers have expressed desire that his news and views should be made available on Internet for wider public audience. So here we go!

 

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Q1.  As you know the professions of law, education and medicine have always been considered to be the noble professions. Traditionally, clients used to place ex-gratia payment into counsel’s pocket at the back of their gown/ robe without settlement; whereas, today senior advocates are charging from 6 lakh to 25 lakh per appearance. Do you think it is justified?

Answer: There is a difference between being emotional and being factual. Emotionally, in India we use highly honourable terms for legal profession like noble profession. For Courts, we use honourable expression like ‘Temples of Justice’. But these are only rhetorics. The reality in India is quite different. Saving few honourable exceptions, most of the lawyers in India will not move an inch without getting fees. So legal profession has become an industry. Either we close our eyes to the reality like an Ostrich or face the facts head on.

I believe in idealism as much as in pragmatism but idealism should have some foundation to stand on. I call it pragmatic aspirational. Both Indian Legal Profession and Indian courts have to face the realities as they are – before we aspire to make them as they ought to be. So there is a need for paradigm shift in our thinking about legal profession. In this connection, many changes are needed both in the mind set as well as in the minute provisions of Indian Advocates Act, 1961 & corresponding Bar Council Rules. Both Indian Advocates Act, 1961 & Bar Council rules are based on archaic thinking and dysfunctional assumptions. In my considered opinion legal profession should be treated like any other industry. It should be governed by the rules of market and like corporate; duty of social responsibility should be fixed. For example, every lawyer must be free to charge fees whatever market can provide but he/she should be duty bound to do atleast 25% pro bono cases. (free service in public interest)

Thus it would be more realistic arrangement.

Q2. Do you think that the noble profession has today been reduced to a flourishing industry?

Answer: Yes, legal profession has turned into industry but there is no harm. It should be regulated like any other corporation by fixing the duty of social responsibility of doing 25% cases pro bono.

Q3. Should the fee structure/ slabs not be regulated by BCI after making necessary amendments in regulatory laws/ rules? 

Answer: Regulations by Bar Council of India is neither practical nor desirable. Saving few honourable exceptions, best lawyers are seldom elected to Bar Council. Given the feudal mind set of Indians, even Supreme Court has become an Arena for Power Play, let alone Bar Council of India. In fact, Rules of Bar Council of India themselves must undergo necessary amendments. Most of the Rules of Bar Council of India and Provisions of Indian Advocates Act, 1961 are archaic. For example, contingency fee is not allowed in India. It is nothing short of hypocrisy. India needs to be honestly selfish. Right now most of the Indians are hypocritically selfish. Hypocrisy must go and authenticity must be respected.

Q4. Should the phenomenon of demanding unreasonable and highly sky-rocketing fees from clients not be termed as unfair trade practice?

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Q5. Should the arbitrary and monopolistic attitude of the senior lawyers making fortunes out of their profession not be capped by the government?

Answer: Since I believe that legal profession should be governed by market rules, any free contract between the parties amidst free competition is a fair practice. But social responsibility of doing 25% cases bro bono must be strictly enforced. I don’t want any capping by the Government. A lawyer is liable to pay lawful taxes to the Government. Beyond that, it is no business of the Government to interfere.

Q6. As a service provider, should the extracting lawyers not be covered under the provisions of Consumer Protection Act?

Answer: Yes, if legal profession is treated as an industry there is no reason why legal services should not be covered under Consumer Protection Act.

Q7. Is there a distinction of advocates on the basis of exorbitant fees and usual fees, which is clearly visible as ‘rich man’s lawyers’ and ‘ little man’s lawyers’?  

Answer: Right now there is a distinction between Senior Lawyers and other lawyers but the system of designating Senior Lawyer should be done in open court in a transparent manner. Distinction for recognition of achievements can be maintained but the assessment of the achievements should be done in an objective, fair and transparent manner.

Q8. What is the criteria of charging unrestrained fees arbitrarily?

Answer: The criterion of charging of fee is dependent on the complexity of the case, level of expertise required, time and labour involved in the case and in appropriate cases, paying capacity of the parties.

Q9. Does the phenomenon of ‘show of face’ really works? If yes, does it not amount to mockery of justice?

Answer: As I suggested above, only a hypocrite or ignorant person can ignore the reality of show of face in court but those persons whose faces are recognised, are also highly accomplished, more experienced, more effective than average lawyers. But we have to make sure distinction is made on merit and capability and not on mere connections.

Q10. Whither is justice, if a little man is faced with the opponent engaging a big name as opposing counsel?

Answer: Let us be clear, in nature there is no equality. We wish to be treated equal and everybody is entitled to equal respect and dignity but it does not mean that everybody has access to equal resources in life. Legal profession is no exception. We should focus on rooting out the real causes of inequality in the basic structure of distribution of resources.

Q11. Do you think that the lawyers starting practice after their retirement from lucrative government posts and getting pension from the government, then by virtue of their getting government pension not be treated as still in government service and as such they should either be restrained for enrolment as advocate or else surrender their pension ?

Answer: I doesn’t think there should be any bar on retired civil servants on starting the practice after retirement. On the contrary, their expertise in government services in different sectors can be utilised fruitfully. To give only one example, one retired IAS officer has joined me after his retirement and his expertise in certain areas is of great value to our clients in the area of finance.

Q12. Although the Supreme Court bench of CJI  H.L. Dattu and Justice A.K. Sikri had quashed the move of bar councils to fix the upper age limit for law admission/ practice, still don’t you think that the senior lawyers after the age of 65 years should take voluntary retirement ?

Answer: I don’t think there should be any upper age limit for lawyers to practise. If the test of capability of a lawyer is to be determined by the free market forces under free competition, why arbitrary age limit be fixed for the practice of lawyers when like an old wine, lawyers get better with years of maturation.

BY DR. SURAT SINGH, HARVARD AND OXFORD EDUCATED SUPREME COURT LAWYER

E-MAIL: drsuratsingh972@gmail.com, Phone: +91-9811009460, +91-9810087773

Yesterday’s Press Conference by 4 senior-most Judges of Supreme Court will go as an unprecedented precedent in the history of Supreme Court of India since 1950. It’s easy to judge this action lightly but its importance is of historical proportion. The reasons are as follows:

  1. It brings out the inner conflicts among the Supreme Court Judges themselves in open. This is significant because Judiciary prizes on secrecy and confidentiality. For example- the proceedings of Collegium are not made available to public. On larger scale, Right to information Act, 2005 which is applicable to other wings of the Government hasn’t been made applicable to Judiciary. One of my friends and a courageous Judge of Delhi high court Mr. Justice Ravindra Bhatt showed the guts to decide that Right to Information is applicable to even courts but when the case went to Supreme Court, it didn’t find a favourable response. So, Indian Judges, barring few honourable exceptions, are never tired of preaching accountability, responsibility, fairness, transparency to other wings of the Government. They remind other wings of the Government that one of the cardinal principles of natural justice is that nobody should be Judge in his own case but they conveniently forget the same when it is applied to them.

Only 3 months ago when I was arguing a case in the Supreme Court and I had an honest difference of opinion with the Judge and I raised my voice to express my anger, he didn’t hesitate to remind me about his authority in the following manner, “You shouldn’t think we are powerless or weak. We can send you to jail under contempt of Court for 3 months even without a trial”.

I am sorry to say instead of thinking of doing justice under different circumstances, he was thinking of his power. In a democratic set up, where rule of law and not the rule of men (dominantly) is the guiding principle, power is given to be exercised for public purpose and not for private embellishment.

  1. After 3 Supreme Court Advocate-on-Record Associations in cases, Judiciary has appropriated itself the power to appoint and transfer Judges. In an authoritarian country like India, it was needed for Independence of Judiciary because earlier Judges were very much vulnerable to caprice and whims of Executive (ADM Jabalpur V Shukla case in 1976 Emergency Era). So, it is a good thing that Indian Judiciary has attained Independence unlike our neighbour Pakistan. But at the cost of repetition, I have to remind that the purpose of granting any power under our Constitution is to enable power holder to exercise it in best interests of people of India. But unfortunately, our democratic ethos are so weak and feudal mindset is so powerful that saving few honourable exceptions, whenever power is given in India to a person, he/she treats it as a personal property and not as a trust in public interest.
  2. In Europe and America, there are safeguards of public opinion, citizens’ temperaments, institutional support against any abuse of power. For example- when President Nixon refused to resign after Watergate scandal, almost entire population of Washington DC came out in protests and started honking their car horns to put a pressure. By contrast, in India we have a culture of power worship. Let’s face it, In India we have very few robust citizens, majority of the people are subjects. The culture of sycophancy for petty benefits is far more prevalent than culture of straight forward, truthful action irrespective of consequences.
  3. Time has come to confront the realities of Indian polity and Indian society. Indian Supreme Court has gone through various phases since 1950 till 12.01.18. I divide it in following eras:
  4. a) Nehru Era from 1950-64, where Supreme Court showed too much respect to other wings of the Government.
  5. b) Shastri Era from 1964-66, when under leadership of Chief Justice Subba Rao, Supreme Court became a vociferous champion of Human Rights on the verge of confrontational approach with other wings of Government.
  6. c) Indira Gandhi 1st Phase Era, where Doctrine of Basic Structure was evolved to protect democracy from destruction of basic structure of Constitutional framework.
  7. d) Emergency Era, where Supreme Court except Justice H.R. Khanna caved in before Executive. For example- ADM Jabalpur (1976) where Supreme Court by majority held that only rule of law during emergency is emergency law and Fundamental Rights can be suspended.
  8. e) Post Emergency Era from 1977 till 1992, where Supreme Court started giving liberal interpretation to Fundamental Rights including development of Public Interest Litigation (PIL) allowing access to Courts by less privileged sections of society but the dominance of Executive in appointment of Judges was maintained.

5) Emergence of Supreme Court as author of its own ticket from 1992 till 12.01.18, where with help of 3 Supreme Court judgments, Supreme Court proclaimed itself as ‘Swayam Bhoo’ (Sui Generis) in terms of appointing, transferring High Court and Supreme Court Judges with the help of Collegium system and now we are entering the next stage of demystification of this hallowed institution. Some may call it the age of Self-Awareness or age of maturity, whereby even some of the most venerable Judges of Supreme Court are coming in public about their private grievances. Almost 4 decades ago, my Delhi Law Professor Dr. Upendra Baxi wrote a Book ‘Indian Supreme Court and Politics’. Only naïve, super credulous or first rate fools were believing that Supreme Court was free from politics. If by politics, we mean exercise of power in the name of principles, Supreme Court was doing that from the very beginning. The only difference is now it has come out in open.

After this historical discussion, let me answer the basic question which is the title of the article, “Whether holding a public conference by Supreme Court Judges was wise or otherwise?”

My brief answer is that these Judges took the risk of exposing the internal workings of Supreme Court. It would have been wiser to resolve this issue by internal discussion and dialogues. But if they have chosen to come to the public, then they shouldn’t have come in a half-hearted manner. They should have gone whole hog by pointing out what is ailing our Supreme Court. With great respect, they have hinted at issues of composition of Benches by Chief Justice in violation of healthy traditions but that is only a minor transgression.  Let’s remember that all the Judges of Supreme Court are, more or less, equally competent. So, composition and number of Judges is not what is ailing Supreme Court. It is a minor problem. The major problem is power without accountability.

So, now time has come we should reflect upon the workings of the Judiciary particularly of Supreme Court in best interests of people of India. Supreme Court Judges keep on reminding, while arrogating powers to themselves, that nobody is Supreme but the Constitution is Supreme. But we must remember that the Indian Constitution was adopted in the name of, We The People of India, not in the name of, We The I.A.Ss or We The Ministers or We The Judges of India.

In the final analysis, whether Judges of Supreme Court are doing their job effectively will be decided by whether they are making a genuine effort to use their for public purpose of delivering justice without fear or favour, affection or ill-will  in the best interests of public rather than their private pre-dispositions and prejudices.

So, let the light be turned on the Judges themselves, so that level of Self-Awareness among the Judges is raised. Yes, they should do justice not only to themselves but to the clients who approach the Court as a last resort of hope. To paraphrase much celebrated phrase of Karl Marx, “Till so far, Supreme Court Judges have focused on doing justice to themselves. The need is to turn the focus to do justice to the clients in whose services they are appointed. The need is to transform Judiciary from Court-centred focus to Client-centred focus. It will take more than just holding an isolated, single Press conference”

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