Special Correspondent

Says BCT cannot expand rule-making power so extensively

CHENNAI: The Madras High Court has struck down a Bar Council of Tamil Nadu (BCT) regulation stipulating the maximum age for enrolment of advocates as 45 years.

Declaring the impugned Rule 8(A) of the Enrolment Rules of BCT as void and unconstitutional, a Division Bench comprising Justices P. Sathasivam and S. Tamilvanan said: "Parliament fixed no upper age limit for pursuing law course after taking note of various relevant features. Hence, the State Bar Council cannot widen/expand its rule-making power so extensively as to discriminate or classify between two similarly placed persons (fresh graduates and belated entrants) based on "utter arbitrariness".

Flagrant violation

"It is the duty of the court to stretch its hands to save the affected party and to remind the limits of the body (BCT) in respect of its rule-making power, particularly when Article 14 is flagrantly violated," the Judges said.

As per the impugned regulation, introduced on June 17, those aged 45 and above are not entitled to be enrolled as advocates. A person enrolling as advocate in any other State Bar Council, where there is no age restriction, shall not be entitled to apply for transfer to Tamil Nadu.

When advocate M. Radhakrishnan challenged the new restriction, the BCT justified it on the ground that it would help upkeep the professional standards and protect the interests of lawyers; that several candidates succeeded in getting a law degree while continuing in government/other service without formal or basic education; that it would help sift those having fake law degrees; that the belated entrants could not be treated on a par with regular entrants; and that they lacked in knowledge and manners.

Rejecting all the contentions, the Bench said the BCT could not furnish any concrete material with statistics to demonstrate that due to the inflow of belated entrants the standard and quality of the profession dwindled to a great extent. If the BCT meant to say that these persons did not have good knowledge and also lacked in manners then "such claim is at best a delusion born of surmises and conjectures."

As regards the BCT contention that Medical Council of India and All India Council for Technical Education had age restrictions, the Judges said each discipline had its own distinct features and all could not be judged with the same yardstick.

The court was not underestimating the rule making powers of the BCT, they said, adding, "At the same time we cannot uphold the validity of a provision when it is stained with arbitrariness and inequality and infringes on Article 14 of the Constitution."