MP High Court mandates hiring local advocates

SYNOPSIS

In a first of its kind development, the High Court of Madhya Pradesh made it mandatory for a party, engaging an advocate not stationed at Jabalpur, Indore or Gwalior in a case instituted at such place, to also engage a local advocate.The move comes in response to a letter written by an executive member of the High Court Bar Association to the then Chief Justice Ajay Kumar Mittal seeking fresh directions to make it mandatory to engage a local lawyer, registered at Jabalpur, Gwalior or Indore, for filing a case there. The High Court of Madhya Pradesh has a principal seat and two additional benches, respectively situated in Jabalpur, Gwalior and Indore. Vide a fresh notice, the Court has made a provision to put in default category, those cases which are instituted at the above listed places without engaging a local advocate.

ABOUT HIGH COURT OF MADHYA PRADESH

The High Court of Madhya Pradesh is one of the largest High Courts in the country, in terms of territorial jurisdiction, having a total of three Benches situated at different cities of the State (other High Courts with similar number of benches are that of Bombay and Assam). The MP High was initially established, under the Government of India Act, 1935, as the Nagpur High Court vide Letters Patent dated January 2nd, 1936. Later, after independence, and after the coming into force of the Constitution of India Act, 1950, new state of Madhya Pradesh was constituted under section 9 of the States Reorganization Act, 1956. Section 49(1) of the 1956 act ordained that the existing High Court, i.e. the Nagpur High Court, shall now be deemed as the High Court of Madhya Pradesh, with principle seat at Jabalpur.

It is notable that the present High Court was established by making an amendment, rather than abolishing the existing one, thus, making it one of the few High Courts in the country that have been existing since pre-independence era. As of now, the High Court has three Benches, the Principal seat being at Jabalpur, while the other two Benches situated respectively at Gwalior and Indore. Both the additional Benches at Gwalior and Indore which were initially constituted in 1956 as ‘temporary’, were given a ‘permanent’ status on November 28, 1968 in exercise of the powers conferred by section 51(2) of the States Reorganization Act.

LATEST DEVELOPMENT AND THE LEGAL FRAMEWORK

In a first of its kind move, the High Court of Madhya Pradesh (“MP High Court”) has now made it mandatory for parties, filing a suit at its either of its benches at Jabalpur, Gwalior or Indore, to engage a local advocate residing at such place. The move comes at a time when lawyers residing respectively at any of the three places were displeased by the lawyers living throughout the State (other than the three aforesaid cities) taking over the cases filed before the three benches of the High Court, and thus creating a situation resembling disguised unemployment.

The move also comes in response to a letter written by an executive member of the High Court Bar Association, YashSoni to the then Chief Justice Ajay Kumar Mittal in July 2020, wherein, he sought fresh directions to make it mandatory for a party filing suit at any of the three benches, to engage a local advocate in accordance with Rule 3.

His letter read:

"…the online filing of fresh cases is giving permit to all advocates of the entire State to file any case before the Hon’ble High Court without engaging a local Council from Principal Seat of Jabalpur and the procedure of permitting online e-filling to every advocate of the entire MP is not only hampering the practice of all Advocates whose ‘Place of Practice’ is registered at Jabalpur but is also contrary to the High Court of MP Rules, 2008…"

RULE 3 CHAPTER VIII OF HIGH COURT OF MP RULES 2008

Now it may come to the minds of the readers, what are these Rules that govern the functioning of a High Court? Article 227 of the Constitution of India gives inherent power to a High Court to make and issue general rules and prescribe forms for regulating the practice and proceedings of Courts. It was in exercise of these powers that the MP High Court framed the High Court of Madhya Pradesh Rules, 2008 (“the 2008 rules”) where under, the Rule 3 in Chapter VIII, prior to the present development, made it mandatory for a party, engaging an advocate not stationed at Jabalpur, Indore or Gwalior in a case instituted at such place, to also engage a local advocate to appear, act and plead.

The relevant provision, prior to amendment read: “A party, engaging an advocate not stationed at Jabalpur, Indore or Gwalior in a case instituted at such place, shall also engage a local advocate to appear, act and plead."

However, as was pointed out in the letter written by YashSoni, the process of online filing of cases made the enforcement of this rule almost impossible, rendering it purposeless. The online system of filing made allowed permits to all the advocates throughout the State, irrespective of their place of residence, to file fresh cases before any of the three benches of the High Court, thereby, in a way, nullifying the effect of the aforementioned rule. This was the primary cause of concern among the local advocates residing in the place.

LATEST AMENDMENT

In view of this displeasing issue faced by the local lawyers, and with an aim to counter it, an amendment was made vide Notification dated 02/10/2020 in the Madhya Pradesh Official Gazette in an attempt to rectify the same. Rule 3 of Chapter VIII of the 2008 rules, after the amendment, now reads:

“A party, engaging an advocate not stationed at Jabalpur, Indore or Gwalior in a case instituted at such place, shall also engage a local advocate to appear."

It is noteworthy that, prior to the amendment, the rule mandated it to engage a local advocate, while instituting a case in Jabalpur, Gwalior or Indore to “appear, act and plead.” However, after the said amendment, it is only obligatory to engage the local advocate only for purpose of “appearing”, thus making the rule less stringent and making it more pragmatic than before.

For the purpose of enforcing the amended rule, the High Court also issued a fresh notice dated 10/11/2020 laying a fresh provision to put in default category all those cases which are filed in Jabalpur, Gwalior or Indore without engaging a local advocate residing at such place. An extract from the Notice dated 10/11/2020 reads:

"As directed, Cases filed by the Advocates not stationed at Jabalpur, Indore and Gwalior will be put in default category, if a local counsel has not been engaged therein in view of amended Rule 3 of Chapter-VIII of the High Court of Madhya Pradesh Rules, 2008"

Even though this maiden move rolled by the MP High Court has not been tried by any other Court in the past and its impact upon the functioning of courts is yet to be calculated, it is expected to cause exasperation not only among the lawyers residing outside the listed places (Jabalpur, Gwalior and Indore) but also among the parties who will have to unwillingly bear the cost of engaging another (local) advocate in addition to their familiar one. It would be worth looking up to the response of the other High Courts in the coming days, and how they might take this up as a precedent for implementation in their own territorial jurisdiction.

 

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Prajjwal Gour Online
on 16 November 2020
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