The Supreme Court has issued a notice in a Public Interest Litigation seeking direction on the Bar Council of India and the State Bar Councils to collect data on lawyers who are either enrolling or already enrolled and have disabilities, in compliance with the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016 to enact a policy that guarantees that lawyers with disabilities practising in various courts across the country receive the same opportunities and treatment as lawyers without disabilities.

The Bench of Chief Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, Justice J.B. Pardiwala and Justice Manoj Misra issued notice in the matter. The Bench ordered, "The Petition seeks direction on the Bar Council of India and the State Bar Councils to collect in the enrollment forms details on the disability status of applicant advocates so that data-driven policies which provide for accessible justice to the disabled can be implemented. Issue Notice, returnable in 4 weeks. Dasti permitted in addition."

In the PIL filed by disabled lawyer Fateh Mohit Whig, represented by Advocate-on-Record Shashank Singh, it has been submitted that it is essential to gather data on lawyers with disabilities to ensure that these lawyers are treated equally to their counterparts and can fully access the benefits outlined in the 2016 Act.

The Petitioner states that data collection of lawyers who are persons with disabilities with respect to their disability is essential for increasing their representation in the bar, addressing their specific needs, providing support, advocating for their rights, informing policy development, and challenging stereotypes.

It has also been highlighted in the Petition that out of 22 State Bar councils only the bar council of Tamil Nadu and Puducherry seeks and records data on the disability status of an Applicant. Petitioner states that Section 3 (5) of the Right of Persons with Disabilities Act 2016 states that “The appropriate Government shall take necessary steps to ensure reasonable accommodation for persons with disabilities" which is only possible when disabled lawyers have access to all the physical spaces in Court and the court procedures are accessible to lawyers who are Persons with Disabilities.

The Petitioner relies on Section 12 of RPWD which mandates the appropriate government to, "Ensure that persons with disabilities are able to exercise the right to access any court, tribunal, authority, commission, or any other body having judicial or quasijudicial or investigative powers without discrimination based on disability".

The petitioner also contends that according to Chapter II, Section 7 (1)(d) of the Bar Council of India's functions, it is mandated "to safeguard the rights, privileges, and interests of advocates." The petitioner further argues that this provision does not differentiate between advocates with disabilities and other advocates. However, due to the lack of data concerning the latter group, advocates with disabilities are at a practical disadvantage compared to their colleagues at the Bar.

It has also been stated in the Petition that the benefits of collecting data related to lawyers with disabilities include: 1. Enhancing their effective representation at the Bar, aligning their advocacy with personal experiences. 2. Facilitating the provision of mental health support to advocates. 3. Enabling the Bar Council to offer reasonable accommodations in the workplace. 4. Increasing participation of students with disabilities in law courses and the legal field. 5. Creating an accessible physical environment. 6. Providing relevant assistive technology. 7. Addressing negative attitudes towards disabled advocates. 8. Developing inclusive services, systems, and policies for all lawyers with disabilities. 9. Facilitating the mainstreaming of advocates with disabilities. 10. Promoting an inclusive Bar, human rights, social and economic benefits, and sustainable development and many other benefits.

"The Courts are establishments and lawyers an integral part, therefore, it becomes the state’s responsibility to make sure that the Mandate of the RPWD Act of 2016 is given effect in its complete sense. To ensure the implementation the collection of data is the inevitable first step. In addition to that it is also necessary to point out that it’s been 6 years since the Act came into force and there are no measures in place to collect and collate the data with respect to the Advocates / Applicants with disabilities who wish to Enroll as Advocates", submits the petitioner.

Additionally, it states that data on advocates with disabilities will help assess whether advocates persons with disabilities are participating in other activities of the Bar at the same level as advocates persons without a disability.

Accordingly, the Petitioner seeks direction on the Bar Councils to collect data on persons with disabilities who wish to enrol by providing a specific Column in the enrolment form seeking the disability status and the specific disability details of the applicants and similarly a direction for collection, compilation, and segregation of the data of Lawyers (PWD) who have enrolled themselves with their respective State Bar Council in the past.

Cause Title: Fateh Mohit Whig v. Union of India & Anr. [W.P.(C) No. 1218/2023]