New Delhi: The government today pitched for making free legal aid extended by a lawyer to the poor as an "important precondition" for elevating them as judges of constitutional courts.
Addressing a gathering in the presence of Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra, Law Minster Ravi Shankar Prasad said the time has come to explore the possibility of making genuine pro bono (usually legal work undertaken for free for poor clients) lawyering as an important precondition for elevating an advocate as a judge of a high court or the Supreme Court.
"I feel very strongly about it. When I talk of pro bono lawyering, I am very clear, I mean legal aid with empathy and compassion and not for publicity.
"I think my lords are seasoned men to segregate as to which lawyer is giving legal advice as a proforma compliance and who is giving with commitment," he said.
A senior government functionary recently said the guidelines laid down by the top court outlining the importance of pro bono has "strengthened" the feeling in the government that "pro bono lawyering" be made a prerequisite for becoming a judge.
Like getting the gown of a senior advocate, pro bono activity can easily be a criterion for becoming a judge for those coming to the bench from active bar service, he said.
Pro bono is something which is done for the public good without any payment or compensation.
The guidelines fixed by the Supreme Court for itself and the 24 High Courts last month to govern the exercise of designating lawyers as seniors, talk about pro bono activities undertaken by an advocate.
Under the new system, all matters related to designation of senior advocates would be looked at by a committee which will consider the reputation, conduct, integrity of the advocate, including participation in pro bono work, reported judgement in which the advocate has appeared and the number of such judgements.
But the Supreme Court collegium -- a body of top five judges of the top court which recommends people it finds fit for appointment as judges -- will have to take a final call on the issue.