The Supreme Court has raised serious questions on the conduct of advocates-on-record (AoRs) — whether or not they had outlived their utility and causing more disservice to the litigants.
An AoR duly enrolled in SC can be engaged for filing of cases under Rules 14 & 15 of Order IV of the Supreme Court Rules, 1980). They can also instruct an advocate to appear for pleading the case before the apex court under Rule 6.
“The Rules signify [that] the cases filed in the Supreme Court are handled by certain designated lawyers called the AoRs; this ensures proper management of cases, timely service of court-process to parties and certainty of representation before the court leaving no margin for adjournments as is in other courts,” read a four-page judgment authored by Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah in a matter wherein an application was filed by an AoR for the petitioner.
“All this is to achieve timely decisions of cases by the apex court. However, if the AoRs are not performing their responsibility, as in this case, it certainly begs the questions: Whether the institution of AoRs is required anymore?” it added.
When the bench summoned an AoR, he submitted that he was not aware of the application, which he had signed and filed. Besides, he did not even have the file of the case with him.
Currently, more than a dozen SC lawyers are designated as AoRs to file cases of parties in the top court.
A division bench of the apex court led by Justice Shah noted that under the Rules, an AoR is defined as an advocate, who is to act and plead for a party in the SC.
It further observed that Rule 2 of Order IV stated that an AoR was entitled to appear and plead before the court on signing his respective roll.
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The order further said that Supreme Court Rules shows that the principal responsibility to act, appear and plead on behalf of the party was that of an AoR.
The court noted that it was an AoR, who engaged with an advocate of the Supreme Court. It is on the instructions of an AoR that the advocate pleads the case of the party.
“The engagement of the advocate does not absolve the AoR of his primary responsibility to attend to the case on behalf of the party before the court. In case the advocate is not available, it is the responsibility of the AoR to appear and plead the case of the party,” the order read.
“It is, of course, [at] the discretion of the court to grant adjournment in any particular case if the advocate is not available, considering the nature and complexity of the case, but that does not relieve the AoR from his responsibility under the Rules to be fully prepared to act, appear and plead the case of the party, irrespective whether the advocate is present or not.”
The court noted that in the instant case, the AoR did not even find it appropriate to appear before the court after having submitted a written application for the adjournment on behalf of an advocate of the SC.
“When he [the AoR] appeared, a simple question was asked by the Court to justify whether condonation of the delay in filing the petition for leave to appeal can be granted on the ground agitated in the application. The response of the learned AoR was that he does not even have the file of the case.”
The order said that it was important to draw the attention of the AoR to Rules 30 and 31, under which such behaviour might make them liable for misconduct, leading to disciplinary action against him including suspension of his licence and removal from the practice of the court.
“Therefore, the AoR ought to have taken his responsibility seriously.”