Delhi HC introduces ‘One Bar, One Vote’ for courts in the capital (Read Judgment)

Delhi High Court

In a significant development for lawyers litigating in Delhi, the Delhi High Court today pronounced judgment in a slew of petitions calling for the ‘One Bar, One Vote’ rule to be introduced in bar associations across the capital.

A bench of Justices S Ravindra Bhat and Siddharth Mridul held that a member of the High Court or District Court bar association will be allowed to contest for a post or cast her vote only for one such association.

Now, voting members or those advocates contesting elections to all bar associations in Delhi will have to submit a declaration that they have not participated in the elections of any other bar association. On submission of a false declaration to this effect, the advocate will be suspended from membership for three years.

In addition to this, the court also ruled in favour of introducing a ‘One Advocate, One Chamber’ rule. Consequently, the judgment states that no advocate who has a chamber in any of the court complexes in Delhi can be eligible for allotment of another chamber.

The matter stems from a petition filed by advocate PK Dash in 2010, calling for the rule. Then, in 2012, three more advocates filed similar petitions. In fact, issue created a rift in the Delhi High Court Bar Association, with Secretary Abhijat and the executive members in favour of the rule, and President Rajiv Khosla opposing it.

During the course of the arguments, the petitioners stated that under the existing system, an advocate is free to contest for any position in the executive committee or for any post as office bearer of any association. This, it was argued, would render such bar officials utterly unrepresentative, as they would have no appreciation or desire for ensuring reform and progress of their constituents.

As regards the lack of chambers, it was put forth that there are a large number of lawyers who, despite waiting for substantial period of time, have not been allotted any chambers. On the other hand, many lawyers have more than one chamber, and are also able to secure allotments and rent the chambers to others.

The respondents contended that the High Court was not empowered to make rules for bar associations as it would impinge upon their autonomy and their right under Article 19(1)(c) of the Constitution. To this, the court held, placing reliance on the Supreme Court judgment in Supreme Court Bar Association v. B.D. Kaushik,

“…court annexed bar associations perform functions of a public nature and are thereby amenable to the jurisdiction of the court under Article 226…

…the right to vote in a society is neither a fundamental nor a constitutional right. Its regulation cannot therefore in any event be tested in the same manner reserved for fundamental rights.”

The court also explained the rationale behind introducing such a rule.

“…It ensures orderliness in court proceedings, avoids loss of time (where adjournments on the part of practitioners in given courts are sought, merely to enable them to canvass in for and cast votes in elections in the concerned court (to which the association is annexed) and other courts as well) and eliminates conflicting or divided loyalties of members of multiple Bar Associations, who might be holding executive positions in more than one Bar Association.

…The one bar one vote principle in essence restores a balance in the voting rights of members of every Bar Association, who have hitherto been victims of indiscriminate ‘surge membership’ gerrymandering like election practices in the past.”

Read the judgment:

SRB31052016CW81062010

HT to @wadhwa_co for pointing it out.