The Supreme Court today directed all the State Bar Councils to file their reply to the Public Interest Litigation filed challenging the 'exorbitant' enrollment fee being charged by the State Bar Councils. The Court asked the State Bar Councils to specify in their Counter-Affidavit how much amount by the way of the enrollment fee is being collected every year.

The Bench of Chief Justice DY Chandrachud and Justice PS Narasimha directed that the "State Bar Councils which have not filed their replies already shall do so in 4 weeks else the right to file reply shall stand forfeited and the petition shall proceed on the basis that they have nothing further to add". The Court further asked the Solicitor General Tushar Mehta to assist the Court in this matter.

The Petitioner-in-person Gaurav Kumar told the Bench that he has served notice to all the Respondents in terms of the last order passed. The Bench enquired with the Chairperson of the Bar Council of India Senior Advocate Manan Kumar Mishra and asked for his assistance in the matter. "We have filed the Counter-Affidavit and one transfer application we have filed because similar matters have been filed before the High Courts," replied Mishra.

On the request made by the BCI Chairperson, the Court allowed the transfer applications to be taken up on the board and issued a notice on the same. Further, the Chief Justice observed, "I think the Bar Council of India has to intervene because you know these State Bar Councils are charging huge amounts." Manan Kumar Mishra was quick to respond that "the Fee of Rs. 600 was fixed in the year 1993 and today, it should be Rs. 50,000".

Expressing their shock, the Chief Justice replied, "Rs. 50,000? How will a Dalit student or a rural law graduate afford it?" The CJI further added that "Also, we want to know how much is being collected by way of fees by the State Bar Councils per year. What is the amount they are collecting? How much is the realization of the fee every year?"

Further, reacting to the submissions made by the BCI, the CJI said "Enrollment Fee is a fee which you pay for the enrollment in the Bar. We can't say that we will give you books that is why we charge you this much. We will lay down the law." Continuing, he said "Mr. SG, we request you to assist the Court. It is a very important issue as Law is unlike say medicine or general accountancy, it is a public service-oriented profession and our concern is that if this is the kind of fee, imagine somebody who has to pay twenty-five thousand or forty thousand enrollment?"

Justice PS Narasimha added that "The Accounts will actually answer many questions once the affidavit comes, we will be able to see how much money is taken and collected and kept. You cannot collect more than what the statute prescribes. There is no option. there is nothing to think about it."

The BCI Chairperson had further objected by saying that it is in the year 1996 that Rs. 600 was charged and this is just the enrollment fee while the total amount is charged under different heads. "As per Section 125 CrPC it is Rs. 500 but Lakhs of Rupees are being ordered" added Mishra.

The Bench read Section 24 of the Advocates Act, 1961 which prescribed the enrollment fee to be at Rs. 600. The Bench remarked that "charging of Rs. 600 has not been altered but are statutory provisions, can we say that though the statute says Rs. 600 that is subject to now inflationary escalation every year." The CJI also observed that "What we will say is no State Bar Council shall charge any enrollment fee in excess of what is provided in Section 24."

On April 10, 2023, the Supreme Court had issued a notice on the PIL filed by Gaurav Kumar, petitioner-in-person challenging the enrollment fees being charged by the different State Bar Councils. "Exorbitant fee charged by different State Bar Councils, this is excessive and contrary to Section 24 of the Advocate Act, 1961" submitted the petitioner-in-person.

The Court had directed the petitioner-in-person to serve the petition on the Bar Council of India. The Chief Justice-led Bench had noted that the plea raises a substantive issue pertaining to the enrollment fee charged by various Bar Councils in violation of Section 24 of the Advocates Act. The Bench had also orally observed that the Bar Council of India should step in and ensure that such exorbitant fees should not be charged.

The Bench noted that the Bar Council of Orrisa charges an amount of Rs. 42,000/-, Bar Council of Uttrakhand an amount of Rs. 23650/-, Bar Council of Jharkhand an amount of Rs 21460/- and Bar Council of Kerala charges an amount of Rs. 20,050/-. The petitioner had in its plea submitted that this denies facility of enrollment to young aspiring lawyers who do not have the means.

Section 24 of the Advocate Act deals with the persons who may be adopted as Advocates on a State roll. It states that the persons who may be adopted as advocates on a State roll.

Cause Title: Gaurav Kumar Petitioner v. Union Of India & Ors. [W.P.(C) No. 352/2023]