Central Government has decided to extend the tenure of Attorney General of
India, K.K. Venugopal by another year i.e., 30th June 2022[i]. As we all know,
the Attorney General of India is a constitutional position that serves as the
country's highest legal authority.
But what does the Attorney General's function
include, and what does this constitutional position imply?
Article 76[ii] of the Constitution talks about the post of Attorney General for
India and it basically says that the Attorney General is to be appointed by the
President of India and as to who can he appoint, the provision says that any
person qualified to become a Supreme Court judge can be so appointed.
This brings us to the qualification. As stated in Article 76, the Attorney
General can be anyone qualified to serve on the Supreme Court, which basically
means they must be an Indian citizen who has served as a judge in a High Court
of any Indian state for at least 5 years or as an advocate for at least 10 years
or be an eminent jurist in the President's opinion. These are the requirements
for becoming a Supreme Court Judge, and they also apply to become an Attorney
Attorney General: Central Government's Attorney?
Article 76 of the Constitution of India states that it is the Attorney General's
responsibility to provide legal advice to the Government of India. They can also
represent the government in any court around the country. K.K. Venugopal, the
current Attorney General of India, is representing the central government in a
number of important cases, including the constitutional challenge to the repeal
of Article 370, the central government's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, and
the case challenging Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code, which criminalises
"sedition." K.K. Venugopal is also responsible for successfully defending the
central government in the Rafale case in 2018 and in the Constitutional
challenge to Aadhar card.
Additionally, Article 88[iii] of the Constitution enables the Attorney General
to participate in legislative proceedings as well as the proceedings of any
parliamentary committee to which he may be appointed, with the exception that
Attorney Generals do not have the power to vote. This is what the Attorney
General of India's job includes.
Friends, Philosopher And Guide Of The Court
An Attorney General is a "friend, philosopher, and guide of the court,"
according to the Supreme Court in "P.N. Duda versus V. P. Shiv Shankar & Others
on 15 April 1988."[iv] However, in B.P. Singhal vs Union of India & Anr
on 7 May
2010[v], the Supreme Court stated that there is undoubtedly an element of
lawyer-client relationship between the Attorney General and the Union
As a result, the Attorney General's office is exempt from the Right
to Information Act. What this really implies and boils down to is that, for
example, if there is any communication or legal advice between the Attorney
General and the Government on any legal matter, such information cannot be
required to be disclosed under RTI.
Can Attorney General Represent Private Parties?
The question here arises that can Attorney General represent private parties?
Rule 8 of the Law Officer (Conditions of Service) Rules, 1987[vi] bars law
officers from representing any party other than the Central Government or the
State Government or any University, Government School or College, local
authority, Public Service Commission, Port Trust, Port Commissioners, Government
aided or Government managed hospitals, a Government company as defined in
Section 617 of the Companies Act, 1956 (1 of 1956), any Corporation owned or
controlled by the State, and anybody or institution in which the Government has
a preponderating interest.
It also bars them from advising any party against the
government of India so if there is litigation involving the government, they
cannot advise the other party in that case. Rule 8 also bars them from defending
an accused person in a criminal prosecution or accepting any appointment to any
office in any company or corporation or even advising any ministry without the
reference of the law ministry.
These are the things which Attorney General is barred from doing. But Rule 10 of
the Law Officer (Conditions of Service) Rules, 1987 also allows the Central
Government to relax these provisions if it thinks it is necessary to do so. Only
exceptional condition here being that Rule 8 cannot be relaxed for a matter
where the Government of India or any Central Government institution is likely to
Thus, several law officers including the Attorney General would
apply for special permissions to relax this rule from time to time to appear for
private parties. But there was also an office memorandum[vii] issued in 2011,
2012, and 2014 claiming that law officers which include the Attorney General as
well, have been requesting permissions to appear in private matters in a routine
manner and they also said that sometimes the number of requests are so large
that it tends to take away a sizable amount of time of the law officer in
private matters and their prime attention in government matters suffer.
Thus, these memorandums had asked law officers to restrain themselves from
asking for permission to appear in private matters and said that while such
requests were not barred, the request should be made for compelling reasons and
in exceptional circumstances. But it did not define what the compelling reasons
or exceptional circumstances could be. This bit has been a matter of controversy
in the past as well.
In 2017, then Additional Solicitor General, Tushar Mehta was granted Government permission to represent Amit Shah's son
when he had filed a criminal defamation case against a news website which
brought a controversial report about Jay Shah's financial dealings. Tushar
Mehta was granted Government permission to represent Jay Shah in that case which
led to Rahul Gandhi taking a dig at BJP by calling it a state legal help.
Then Union Minister had to clarify that Tushar Mehta had sought law minister
Ravi Shankar Prasad's permission to appear for Jay Shah and that the approval
was since granted. The Law Minister also clarified to the media that an
Additional Solicitor General can appear in a matter between two parties after
taking permission from the authorities. That is what the position is and has
been in the past as well when several Attorney Generals, including Mukul Rohatgi,
M.C. Setalvad, C.K. Daftari, and Soli Sorabjee have exercised this option and
obtained permission from Central Government to represent private parties in
Is The Extension Of The Tenure Of Attorney General Valid?
Notably, the Constitution does not specify the tenure for the post of Attorney
General so the first Attorney General for India, M.C. Setalvad held the post for
13 years. But the Law Officer (Conditions of Service) Rules, 1987 do say that a
law officer shall hold the office for a term of three years, and they can be
reappointed after this initial three-year period for another term for a maximum
of another three years.
Also, their appointment can be terminated by either
side, i.e., the Government or the law officer with a three months' notice. For
example, K.K. Venugopal was also first appointed as 15th Attorney General of
India on 1st July 2017 for a period of three years but when his three-year term
ended last year, it was extended by another year now he has been given another
In conclusion, an Attorney General is a friend, philosopher, and guide. But more
importantly, he is the topmost lawyer in the country. And with that kind of
power, comes the greater responsibility of not only defending any matter of the
government inside the courtroom, but the reputation of government in front of
the entire country.
- K K Venugopal reappointed as attorney general for a year, The Economic
Times, 30th June 2021,
- Article 76 of Constitution of India, page 43. https://legislative.gov.in/sites/default/files/COI_1.pdf
- Article 88 of Constitution of India, page 47. https://legislative.gov.in/sites/default/files/COI_1.pdf
- P.N. Duda vs V. P. Shiv Shankar & Others on 15 April, 1988, AIR 1208, 1988
SCR (3) 547
- B.P.Singhal v. Union of India and another [(2010) 6 SCC. 331
- Law Officer (Conditions of Service) Rules, 1987, https://legalaffairs.gov.in/sites/default/files/Service%20Rules_0.pdf
- Appearance of law officer in private cases Document, https://legalaffairs.gov.in/sites/default/files/Appearance%20of%20law%20officer%20in%20private%20cases%20Document%20%281%29.pdf