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Frivolous lawsuits: Apex court pulls up gatekeeper lawyers

By Rana Ajit, IANS,

New Delhi : They are meant to save the Supreme Court from being deluged with frivolous cases. But “advocates-on-record” – a select group of lawyers authorised to screen lawsuits – have been ticked off by the apex court for lending their names to petitions without examining the content.

The designation of advocate-on-record is granted to a lawyer only after he or she clears an examination conducted by the apex court. Though these lawyers do not appear before court to argue cases, no lawsuit can be filed in the apex court without their approval and signature. They are supposed to serve as gatekeepers to the apex court’s docket.

But a bench of Justice Aftab Alam and Justice B.S. Chauhan made strong remarks against advocates-on-record for “mere name lending”.

The bench said so while dismissing a newly wed couple’s petition challenging a Delhi family court ruling.

“The petition has been filed without any sense of responsibility either by the parties or their counsel. Such a practice is tantamount to not only disservice to the institution but it also adversely affects the administration of justice. The conduct of all of them has been reprehensible,” the bench said while dismissing the petition March 22.

The couple had approached the family court for divorce within two days of their marriage, albeit by mutual consent. But the family court, citing statutory provisions under the Hindu Marriage Act, 1951, asked the couple to wait for at least six months and to try to reconcile to their marriage.

But they approached the apex court straightway.

In the normal course, the couple were entitled to challenge the ruling in a higher court – first a sessions court and then the high court – before approaching the apex court.

But they invoked Article 32 of the constitution, which entitles citizens to directly move the apex court on grounds of violation of their fundamental rights.

As the lawsuit came up for hearing, the baffled bench asked the couple’s counsel to explain how the family court had violated their fundamental right.

The bench subsequently also summoned the advocate-on-record who had signed the lawsuit and pointed out to him that a lawsuit under Article 32 could be filed only in case of violation of the fundamental right by the state authorities.

The bench asked the advocate to name the state authorities that could be held responsible for alleged violation of the couple’s fundamental right for being asked by the court to wait for six months.

Is it the court itself, which passed the order or the legislature which enacted the law, the angry bench asked.

The couple’s counsel was asked if the Supreme Court was entitled to order a statutory authority to act in contravention of the law – as directing the family court to give the couple a divorce straightway, without waiting for the mandatory six months, would amount to just that.

The advocate-on-record assured the court that he would never indulge in the act of name-lending and signing a lawsuit before examining its content.

(Rana Ajit can be contacted at [email protected])