Madras High Court: Senior Lawyers Not Paying Juniors is Exploitation and Violates Fundamental Rights

The Madras High Court recently addressed the issue of senior lawyers not paying junior lawyers, calling it a form of exploitation that violates fundamental rights. This decision came from a bench comprising Justices SM Subramaniam and C Kumarappan, who emphasized that the practice of not paying junior lawyers even a minimum stipend is unfair and exploitative. The court pointed out that young lawyers, despite their talent and hard work, struggle to make a living because senior lawyers do not compensate them adequately.

The bench referred to Section 6 of the Advocates Act of 1961, which mandates that Bar Councils must ensure the welfare of all lawyers registered with them. The court directed the Bar Council of Tamil Nadu and Puducherry to come up with guidelines to set a minimum amount that must be paid to junior lawyers by their seniors. The court insisted that it is the responsibility of the Bar Council to protect the interests of junior lawyers and ensure their livelihood.

This issue was highlighted during the hearing of a petition by Farida Begum, who raised concerns about the delay in processing around 200 applications for benefits under the Tamil Nadu Advocate’s Welfare Fund. Advocate CK Chandrasekar, representing the Bar Council of Tamil Nadu and Puducherry, explained that the payments were delayed because the Tamil Nadu government had not yet released the necessary funds. Furthermore, he noted that the Welfare Scheme had not been approved by the Puducherry government, resulting in no benefits being disbursed to lawyers in Puducherry.

In response, the bench directed the Tamil Nadu and Puducherry governments to provide details on the number of lawyers eligible for the benefits, the funds allocated and released, and other relevant information. The court expressed concern over the practice of senior lawyers not paying juniors, stating that it is an unacceptable form of exploitation. The bench stressed that the Bar Council must take steps to ensure that junior lawyers receive a minimum stipend when they work for senior lawyers.

The court emphasized that extracting work from junior lawyers without paying them is a violation of their fundamental rights under the Constitution. Young lawyers, who start their careers with hope and enthusiasm, must be supported by senior lawyers and the legal community to ensure their survival and growth in the profession. The court noted that it is essential to fix a minimum stipend to protect the livelihood of junior lawyers.

The Madras High Court’s decision underscores the importance of fair compensation for junior lawyers and the responsibility of senior lawyers and Bar Councils to support the welfare of all lawyers. This move aims to address the exploitation of junior lawyers and ensure that they are adequately compensated for their work, thereby upholding their fundamental rights and promoting a fair and just legal profession.

Advocate C Elangovan represented the petitioner Farida Begum in this case, while Additional Government Pleader A Tamilvanan appeared for the Puducherry government. Advocate CK Chandrasekar appeared for the TN Bar Council, and Advocate S John J Raja Singh represented the Tamil Nadu government. The court has asked the TN Bar Council to provide instructions on the issue by June 12.