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Evolution of Legal Profession in India: Pre-Independence Period

Author: Deobrat S. Gaur

Designation: B.COM LL.B (H) Student, UPES Dehradun

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With the formation of the First British Court in 1672 by Governor Aungier in Bombay, marked as the initiating point of emergence of the law profession in India. The governor in council was the authority of admission of the advocates. There were no legal practitioner before the formation of the Mayor’s Court in 1726 in Calcutta, and Madras,

In the three presidency towns madras Calcutta and Bombay the Mayor court was established, where the first appeal was addressed to the Governor-in –Council and the second appeal was to the Privy Council. The mayor court also propounded the concept of Attorney Guilty of Misconduct.

Through the Royal Charter Act in1774 the Supreme Court of Judicature was established in Calcutta where the first barrister appeared before the Supreme Court. With the establishment of the Supreme Court, wealth, recognition, prestige was seen in the legal profession for the first time.

The Charter Act 1773 basically gave power to the court to enrol, approve, reject and admit, prohibit or remove the advocates to practise before the court.

But the legal profession in the Mofussil Towns were guided as per the legislation and in the Diwani court there was no acknowledgement of the legal practise, nor it was controlled, primarily the practise was carried on by the vakeels and agents, who used to appear before the Nawabs Court , but there was no legislation which regulated or prescribed the qualification ,or the rules of practise or the ethics meant to be exercised by them. Considering these things an immediate need was felt in order to regulate the administration of Justice and the rules and restriction, qualification subject to which any person would be allowed to admit and plead before the courts, Bengal Regulation 1793 was enacted.

High court was established in the three presidency towns, Madras Calcutta and Bombay in 1862 which was basically an unification of the supreme court and sunder courts tradition, the High courts were empowered to make rules, restrictions, eligibility criteria, qualifications, the code of conduct which is to be followed by the vakeels, and advocates, which marked an end to the era of monopolization of practise by the barristers, which they used to do in Supreme court. This gave the right to practise and plead the Indian laws, also gave the opportunity which was exploited exploitatively by the English lawyers.

With the establishment of the High Courts , 6 grades of legal practise emerged in India

  1. Advocates

  2. Attorneys(solicitors)

  3. Pleaders

  4. Vakeels of High Court

  5. Mukhtars

  6. Revenue Agents.

These 6 grades were inducted to the High Court due to the enactment of Legal Practitioners Act 1879. The Legal Practitioners Act and the Letters Patent of the High Courts formed the chief legislative governance of legal practitioners in the subordinate Courts in the country until the Advocates Act, 1961 was enacted.

After the enactment of Advocates Act 1961, for becoming vakeel, a person was obligated to study law at a university or at the college , and master the use of English and pass the examination of Vakeel. By the 1940 in addition to the requirement of person to be a LLB graduate, three additional requirement was added, these are as follows:

The certificate should be proof that

a. he had passed in the examination

b. read in the chamber of a qualified lawyer and

c. was of a good character,.

The High Courts of the three presidency towns had an original side. The original side included major civil and criminal matters which had been earlier heard by predecessor Supreme Courts. On the original side in the High Courts, the solicitor and barrister remained distinct i.e. attorney and advocate. On the appellate side every lawyer practiced as his own attorney.

Legal Practitioner Act 1923

Which allowed women to practise before the bar , prior to which they were not allowed to work, Indian bar committee , which basically proposed to remove the distinction amongst the lawyers

Indian Bar Councils Act, 1926

The Indian Bar Councils Act, 1926 was passed to unify the various grades of legal practice and to provide self-government to the Bars attached to various Courts. The Act required that each High Court must constitute a Bar Council made up of the Advocate General, four men nominated by the High Court of whom two should be Judges and ten elected from among the advocates of the Bar. The duties of the Bar Council were to decide all matters concerning legal education, qualification for enrolment, discipline and control of the profession. It was favourable to the advocates as it gave them authority previously held by the judiciary to regulate the membership and discipline of their profession. The Advocates Act, 1961 was a step to further this very initiative.

As a result of the Advocates Act, admission, practice, ethics, privileges, regulations, discipline and improvement of the profession as well as law reform are now significantly in the hands of the profession itself.







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