The question precisely in this case is whether the appointment of law officers by the State Governments can be questioned or the process by which such appointments are made can be assailed on the ground that the same is arbitrary, hence, violative of the provisions of Article 14 of the Constitution of India. The ‘directions’ of the court are applicable only to Punjab and Haryana, though it suggested the implementation of similar rules across all states.
JUDGES: S. Thakur and Kurian Joseph.
FACTS OF THE CASE
The factual summary of the case is as follows:
In January 2012, out of 179 Law Officers on the roll on an average, 140 Law Officers had not been allotted any work and 87 Law Officers were without work for the whole of the month. However, later on, the Department discontinued the services of 26 Law Officers in June 2012. This shows that Law Officers were engaged without assessing the requirement on the basis of work or work norms or workload prevailing in the Department. No such exercise was found to be done while engaging such Law Officers.
The matter was discussed in detail with the Additional Chief Secretary to Government of Haryana, Administration of Justice Department in an exit conference held on 23 October 2012. During the meeting, it was stated that some guidelines should be in place to assess the vacancies on the basis of workload and selection of Law Officers should be made in a transparent manner. The Department was doubtful about the high percentage of Law officers without assigning any work and stated (November 2012) that though the work was generally assigned to a team comprising more than one Law Officer in the daily duty roster name of only one Law Officer was mentioned. It was further added that these Law Officers perform multifarious duties/functions such as research of law for particular pending cases, for general updating of latest case law, preparing factual and legal notes, preparing compendium or judgments, etc. However, no requirement or need was felt to keep the record of such assignments as the concerned Law Officers were responsible to deal with the cases entrusted to them.
The contention of the Department that the names of all team members were not mentioned in daily duty roster was not acceptable as during re-verification of daily duty rosters, after the exit conference, it was found that wherever a team was deputed for a specific work, names of all the team members were mentioned therein.
Thus, the engagement of excess Law Officers without assessing the quantum of work and without resorting to fair and transparent selection method resulted in allowing more than 50 percent Law Officers without work and payment of the idle salary of 2.22 crore.
ISSUE OF THE CASE
Whether the appointment of law officers by the State Governments can be questioned or the process by which such appointments are made, can be assailed on the ground that the same is arbitrary, hence, violative of the provisions of Article 14 of the Constitution of India.
Ratio and Obiter Dicta
The States shall constitute a Selection Committee with such number of officers as the State Government may determine to select suitable candidates for appointment as State counsel. The Secretary, Department of Law in each State shall be the Member- Secretary of the Selection Committee.
The Committee shall on the basis of norms and criteria which the Government concerned may formulate and in the absence of any such norms, on the basis of norms and criteria which the Committee may themselves formulate conduct selection of law officers for the State and submit a panel of names to the Chief Justice of Punjab and Haryana who may set up a Committee of Judges to review the panel and make recommendations to the Chief Justice. The Chief Justice may be based on any such recommendations record his views regarding the suitability of the candidates included in the panel. The Government shall then be free to appoint the candidates having regard to the views expressed by the Chief Justice regarding their merit and suitability. The procedure for assessment of the merit of the candidates and consideration by the High Court will apply in all cases where the candidates are already working as State counsel but are being given an extension in the term of their appointment.
Nothing said in the foregoing paragraphs of this judgment shall affect the right of the State Governments to appoint any person eligible for such appointment as the Advocate General of the State in terms of Article 165 of the Constitution of India.
Reform in the selection and appointment of state counsel
The Supreme Court proffered guidelines for the selection and appointment of law officers in states, accepting submissions that existing processes needed to be made more transparent and fairer. The petition before the court had sought recourse against the arbitrary appointment of state counsel, however, taking cognizance of the matter, the court also delved into findings of excessive numbers of legal counsel and vested interest overtaking work and merit. Whether the court’s observations can be interpreted as ‘guidelines’ remains to be seen, with even the justices terming them “propositions…legally unexceptionable”. They expounded a meritocracy above a “governmental fiefdom”.
By Shreya Shikha