The BCI has recently stated that the total number of lawyers in India is around 1.3 million and all of them are required to verify their certificates. Their names may be struck off if they fail to do so.
The issue came to light after a complaint in 2015 led to the ouster of The Delhi Law Minister Jitender Singh Tomar from the Bar Council of Delhi due to his forged certificates. CJI Khehar agreed with the strict regulation of The BCI and said, “I am so happy that the BCI has started the verification process. But it is not only about people with false degrees but the issue also encompasses those with no degrees. These people work without a licence. They go to court and practise without any authority.” He advised that the BCI should launch an enquiry from the grassroots level. He recommended starting the verification process right from the universities.
Mishra recently highlighted his organisation’s concern over the government’s delay in releasing the Memorandum of Procedure, a document that is to guide the appointment of Supreme Court and High Court judges.
A popular English daily, The Hindustan Times, reported on January 10, 2017, that the Delhi Bar Council had alleged that universities were demanding a fee to verify certificates. The Delhi unit’s chief, Balakrishnan had said that the
organisation would need to pay around Rs. 4 crore to verify the certificates. However, on March1, 2017, the Supreme Court directed universities to verify law degrees without taking any fee.
A well-knit conglomerate
The problem of faking degrees is not limited to law practitioners. It can be seen in other professions as well. Sudeep Vijayan, an advocate of Delhi High Court, told BE, “We need to understand the way Indian society works. A strong nexus between different stakeholders across various levels and the absence of strong regulations create opportunities for fake degrees.”
The issues of faking degrees and posing as lawyers have multiple layers. Some achieve degrees from institutions that are dubious. A large section of fake lawyers have no degrees. They simply wear a black coat and pose as a lawyer in court. Kalyan Bhaumik, an advocate of the Supreme Court of India, opined, “It is very difficult to point out a single factor for having a fake degree. It’s the system that is at fault. I feel there is a need to have a mutual collaboration among the law universities, Bar Councils, and courts in terms of sharing information. An electronic database of lawyers with their contact details and photographs will aid the situation. The issue can be tackled by providing access to such a database to Bar associations and courts. When a law graduate registers in the State Bar Council as its member, the council is expected to verify all the originals relating to identity cards, mark sheets and certificates issued, time to time, from the concerned institutions. Issuance of chip based identity cards by the Bar Councils, containing all the details of the lawyers is one of best solutions. A fake lawyer can easily be identified by verification of the concerned
advocate’s testimonials as stored in the State Bar Councils and/or at Bar Council of India. Once the Bar identifies a fake lawyer, it should instantly, after due verification and with adequate caution, cancel the certificate of enrolment of the said lawyer forever, and must initiate appropriate legal proceedings. Fake lawyers are undermining the creditability and accountability of the advocates at large under the judicial system, and implementation of stringent laws and/or the mechanism as the case may be should check such malpractices.”
Pune has been estimated to have a large number of fake lawyers. Mahendra Kawchale was one of them. He had excellent rhetorical skills but was caught as he could not file legal papers. He held a fake law degree from Lucknow. He did not deposit court fees and fines collected from his clients. He was arrested in 2011 and his case is still pending.
Andhra Pradesh and Telangana also have a high number of fake lawyers. High profile lawyer associations are also often infiltrated by fake lawyers. The historic Bezawada Bar Association (BBA) had four or five such fake advocates.
In Bangalore, Safia Banu and Ravikumar ran a huge racket of providing fake certificates to thousands of students. They conducted exams at their centres and provided fake question papers. Mark sheets were given within 30 days of the examinations.
Mikhail Perlov, hailing from Brooklyn, New York, designated himself as a lawyer on Russian-language and social media sites. He even appeared in local courts. He created fake lawsuits and sought business from clients. Perlov was caught in 2015 and admitted to have duped 50 clients for about $50,000. He was asked to return their money and was imprisoned for seven years.
Steps taken by the BCI
The BCI has taken steps to detect fake lawyers in accordance with the provisions of the Advocates Act, 1961, and the rules framed thereunder. It has also sought reply from the concerned state bar councils on this.
Mishra said, “The state bar councils do not verify the authenticity of the submitted documents. No state bar council has kept a simple tabulation on the number of advocates who have died, retired from practise, switched their profession or taken up employment in corporate organisations. They have not even confirmed the total number of lawyers. Despite several extensions, only five lakh applications have come from lawyers for verification.”
The BCI had set fresh guidelines in 2015 that requires a lawyer to apply for a fresh certificate of practise every five years. But this could not be implemented as the Supreme Court had directed the High Courts not to entertain any
petitions in this regard. The apex court directed Bar Councils to complete the verification process and stated that it will hear the validity of the new rules separately.
Implementation of the BCI Certificate and Place of Practice (Verification) Rules 2015 would make it mandatory for all lawyers to re-register in a new format where they will have to submit their academic certificates starting from Class X results. These certificates will then be verified.
The BCI has asked state Bar Councils to prepare voters list for their elections after receiving verification of the certificates. However, Joseph John, Chairman, Kerala Bar Council, has stated that that the envisioned verification may take over 10 years. Elections cannot be held for so long.
Rebacca John, a senior advocate from the Supreme Court said that the majority of the country’s unqualified lawyers are found practising in district courts, which are the courts of original jurisdiction. The appellate system of higher courts exists on these bread-and-butter lawyers. Sudeep Vijayan added, “Law across time has changed. It is now no more a situation where one enrols in a college and gets a degree. There are highly competitive exams. It is very difficult for fake lawyers to sustain in the field. Moreover, magistrates and judges are well versed to understand the competence of an advocate.”
The rules implemented by the BCI have received lukewarm responses in some states. Bihar has submitted only 45,000 verification applications out of one lakh lawyers and only half of the lawyers in Tamil Nadu have submitted the certificates.
What happens to the litigation handled by fake lawyers?
What happens to the litigation that have passed through the hands of fake lawyers? Vijayan stated, “The impact is obviously drastic in nature. Medicine and law are considered to be the noblest of professions because they directly impact the lives of millions in a positive way. Fake lawyers with scrupulous degrees and with no knowledge of the legal system impede the free flow of justice.”
On the other hand, the Law Commission has reported that unqualified lawyers might not be as high as claimed by the Bar Council of India. The Commission’s Chairman, Balbir Singh Chauhan claims that although the number of fake lawyers is high, the figures might not be as alarming as reported by the BCI.