Legal Correspondent

Special Leave Petitions against Kerala High Court verdict admitted

Bench will not stay High Court orderPriesthood is a profession: BCI

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Tuesday admitted special leave petitions filed by the Bar Council of India (BCI) against a Kerala High Court judgment holding that nuns and priests are not disqualified from enrolment as advocates.

A Bench consisting of Justices B.N. Agrawal and P.P. Naolekar, however, did not stay the operation of the March 21 judgment. It issued notice to Thomas P.C. alias Thomas Pudussery, Mary Tresa P.J. alias Sr. Teena Jose and Thressia C.T alias M. Tessy, who were allowed to enrol by the High Court, and to the Bar Council of Kerala. The Bench said hearing on the appeal would be expedited.

The BCI contended that the High Court had erred, not appreciating that nun or priesthood was a profession. Under the State Bar Council and Advocates Act rules, a person already in a profession was not entitled to enrol in the legal profession.

The BCI said the rules contemplated entry into and continuance in the legal profession as it was a full-time occupation and he/she should not engage himself/herself in any other activity or engagement, which was not permitted by the rules. The High Court had erred, not appreciating that priests and nuns had different controls and commitments.

"No longer civil persons"

Though they remained ordinary human beings, priests or nuns by convention ceased to be civil persons, by undergoing a ceremony.

The Canon Law treated nun/priesthood as a full time profession and hence they did not have the liberty to enrol as advocates, the BCI said.

Important questions of law of public importance were involved in the SLPs: whether a person who is engaged in priesthood, which in itself is a full-time profession, is entitled to be enrolled as advocate; and whether the word `profession' contemplated under the Kerala Bar Council Rules imposing a bar on enrolment of persons engaged in other professions is something different from the profession of priesthood under the church.

The BCI sought quashing of the impugned judgment and an interim stay of its operation.