Wednesday, February 15, 2023

No Enrollment Fee Above Rs 750 : Kerala High Court To Bar Council

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The Kerala High Court on 15/02/2023 passed an interim order holding that the Bar Council is not entitled to collect an enrolment fee of more than Rs.750/- prescribed under law, while enrolling prospective advocates.

Justice Shaji P Chaly passed the said order in view of the decision of the High Court in Koshy T. v. Bar Council of Kerala, Ernakulam and Another (2017 KHC 553) which had held that without being conferred any specific power under the statute, the Bar Council is not entitled to collect fee other than a fee of Rs.750/- prescribed under law.

The petitioners, who graduated from Government Law College, Ernakulam, had sought for an interim relief to direct the Bar Council of Kerala to accept the application of petitioners along with an enrolment fee of Rs 750/- in the upcoming enrolment. The court while granting the interim relief sough for, stated that:

“when this specific question was considered by this Court in Koshy T. (supra), which has become conclusive and final, it may not be appropriate on my part to direct the petitioners to pay the entire amount claimed by the Bar Council and receive applications for enrollment".

"In that view of the matter, there will be a direction to the respondent Bar Council to receive applications from the petitioners with a fee of Rs.750/-, which will be subject to the result of this writ petition"

The Petitioners who are law graduates desiring to enrol as advocates with the Bar Council of Kerala in the upcoming enrolment filed the writ petition in view of the “exorbitant and illegal fees” of Rs 15,900/- being levied by the Kerala Bar Council. Some of the petitioners also include candidates belonging to the SC/ST and OBC categories from low-income backgrounds for whom such high fees is “an insurmountable financial burden”, the petition states.

The Counsel for the Bar Council of Kerala argued that Rs.750/- being a meagre amount, would not meet the costs incurred by the Bar Council for the enrolment of potential candidates. 

In the petition filed, the specific contention of the petitioners is that enrolment fees of Rs. 750/- have been imposed under Section 24(1)(f) of the Advocates’ Act. Any rule passed by the Bar Council of Kerala, giving itself the authority to levy a higher charge is beyond the scope of its powers, the petition states. Levying such high fees “deals a heavy blow to the objective of increasing accessibility to the profession by erecting a substantial financial barrier for entry to the profession for many aspiring advocates” the petition points out. 

The petitioners have also raised a challenge against the amount of Rs 1000/- being collected towards the Chairman’s Relief Fund along with the enrolment fee, which according to the petitioner is nothing additional enrolment fee in another form. The amount of Rs. 3000/- being collected towards the Bar Council of India Welfare Fund from each candidate has also been questioned by the petitioners. The petitioners argued that only advocates have the obligation to pay such an amount and not potential advocates. The petitioners made specific reference to Rule 40, Part VI, Chapter II, Section IV-A of the Bar Council of India Rules in this regard. 

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