SCBA chief Vikas SIngh.

SC Bar split over senior lawyers’ apology to CJI; Bar chief wants action

Move antithetical to core values of SCBA and Bar: Senior advocates

Prashun Bhaumik | New Delhi | 15 March, 2023 | 11:10 PM

On March 12, 470 advocates, including 53 Senior advocates, signed a letter supporting Kaul and Sibal, urging the SCBA to withdraw its proposed resolutions against them.

Former Attorney General of India and Senior Advocate KK Venugopal, who has served as the president of the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA), wrote to its incumbent president Vikas Singh on March 14, requesting him to withdraw two resolutions proposed to be passed against Senior Advocates Kapil Sibal and Neeraj Kishan Kaul at the annual General Body Meeting of the SCBA on March 16.

In his letter, Venugopal explained how the apology given by the two senior advocates, following a verbal spat in the Apex Court between Vikas Singh and CJI DY Chandrachud over listing a matter, was to “maintain cordial relations between the bar and the bench”. The three-time president also reasoned how passing the proposed resolutions could create “factions in the bar” and permanently sour the “peaceful relationship” among its members.

What provoked the SCBA president?

The case at the centre of this controversy is “SCBA vs Ministry of Urban Development”, which will be heard by a Special Bench of the Apex Court led by CJI Chandrachud on March 17.

The plea filed by SCBA seeks to convert 1.33 acres of land of the Supreme Court, allotted by the Centre, into a chamber block for lawyers. Through this plea, the SCBA sought more space for lawyer’s chambers owing to factors like the growing number of advocates in the profession and the limited accommodating capacity of the existing premises.

Therefore, the plea sought to declare the entire area around the court premises as part of the “Supreme Court Complex”, including all buildings on Bhagwan Das Road, the Indian Law Institute, and the Indian Society of International Law. On January 18 and September 13, 2022, the SCBA president had also written to CJI Chandrachud and former CJI UU Lalit, respectively, seeking an urgent hearing of this plea.

On March 2, Singh mentioned the plea and sought urgent listing of the same before the Apex Court but to no avail. Singh’s repeated insistence culminated in a remark where he said that he would have to go to the CJI’s residence to get his matter heard.

What was the CJI’s response?

“Mr Singh, I am the Chief Justice of India. I have been on the bench for long. I have never let myself be brow beaten by Bar members and I will not let it happen in the final two years of my tenure. You will be treated as an ordinary litigant. Please don’t force my hand to do something you don’t want,” the CJI had responded.

Singh said the matter was listed six times but was yet to be taken up for hearing and pointed out that he too had mentioned it three times. Indicating that the Bar is ready even for physical protests, the senior counsel said he did not want to take it to the judge’s residence.

Responding sternly, the CJI asked Singh, “Is it a way to behave? I will not be cowered down like this. Sit down.” As Singh argued further, CJI Chandrachud told him, “Please don’t raise your voice. This is not the way to behave as the President of SCBA. You are asking for land allotted to the SC to be given to the Bar. I have made my decision.” Eventually, the bench decided to list the matter for hearing on March 17, asserting that it will not be the first item on the board.

What did Kapil Sibal and Kaul say?

A short while later, senior advocates Kapil Sibal and N K Kaul, representing rival sides in petitions arising out of the Maharashtra political crisis, apologised to the CJI for what had happened.

Sibal said he was of the view that the Bar should not transgress the limits of decorum. Meanwhile, Kaul said, “We feel equally anguished by what happened and hurt.” The CJI thanked them before resuming the hearing.

On March 6, the Executive Committee of the SCBA, in its meeting, decided that the two resolutions against the senior advocates will be put forth for consideration before the Special General Body on March 15.

What resolutions did the SCBA propose for the special GBM to discuss/vote on?

Following the apology, around 235 lawyers wrote to the SCBA, proposing a resolution to issue show cause notices to Kaul and Sibal, seeking an explanation for tendering an apology to the CJI without consulting anyone in the SCBA Executive Committee or knowing the issue, Live Law reported.

Similarly, 184 lawyers proposed a resolution before the SCBA expressing their solidarity with the SCBA president for making efforts towards the construction of their chambers.

How is the bar divided on the issue?

On March 12, 470 advocates, including 53 Senior advocates, signed a letter supporting Kaul and Sibal, urging the SCBA to withdraw its proposed resolutions against some of “the most well-regarded senior members” of the Bar, adding that such a move was antithetical to the core values that the SCBA and the Bar.

The letter signed by Senior advocates such as Fali Nariman, Mukul Rohatgi, Rebecca John, and Rajshekhar Rao read, “We firmly believe that Mr. Sibal and Mr. Kaul did not say anything against the interests of the Bar. Their emphasis was that the decorum of the court has to be maintained and their statements were not in the context of the merits of the matter, at all.”

The letter also stated that the SCBA is meant to be a protector of the rule of law and rights enjoyed by advocates, not a transgressor of the same.

On similar lines, the former AG Venugopal’s letter also spoke on the differences arising between the bar and urged the SCBA president to disallow the resolutions so that “the event may not explode into a situation where there may be two camps with enmity between the members.”

Courtesy India Express