Lawyers’ Services Can’t Be Under Consumer Protection Law: Bar Associations To Court

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Lawyers' Services Can't Be Under Consumer Protection Law: Bar Associations To Court

The associations said that lawyers cannot solicit or advertise their work.

New Delhi:

The Supreme Court was told on Thursday that lawyers or legal practitioners cannot solicit or advertise their work unlike doctors and hospitals, who can publish advertisements, and hence, their services cannot be brought under the Consumer Protection Act.

Differentiating between the services rendered by a lawyer and a doctor, senior advocate Narendra Hooda, appearing for bar bodies and other individuals, told a bench of justices Bela M Trivedi and Pankaj Mithal that first and foremost, the duty of a lawyer is towards the court to assist it in a settlement of law and not his client.

The bar bodies, such as Bar Council of India, Delhi High Court Bar Association and Bar of Indian Lawyers, and other individuals in a batch of petitions have challenged a 2007 verdict of the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC), which has ruled that advocates and their services come under the purview of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986.

Replying to the court’s observation made on Wednesday that if doctors can be sued for poor service and negligence and deficiency in service, then why can’t lawyers, Mr Hooda said, “A doctor’s clinic has been treated as a commercial entity like all big hospitals, which can advertise themselves. There is no bar on them. However, there is a bar on lawyers to advertise their work. They cannot solicit work and cannot have a share in the suit property as the remuneration for their service under the Advocates Act of 1961.”

Assailing the NCDRC verdict, Mr Hooda said lawyers stand on a different footing than doctors or any other professionals due to the restrictions provided under the 1961 law.

He added that for professional misconduct, there is already a remedy provided for a litigant to lodge a complaint with the Bar Council of India, besides the option of approaching a court of law.

“It is not that lawyers have immunity against a complaint filed by a litigant. A remedy for loss can go to the civil court,” Mr Hooda said, adding that when the Advocates Act came into force in 1961, the Consumer Protection Act of 1986 was nowhere on the horizon.

He added that the 1986 law was conceived with an altogether different intent to protect the interest of even a small consumer from the mighty corporations.

“The Consumer Protection Act was conceived in such a manner that the services rendered by a lawyer do not fit in like any other services rendered in other professions,” the senior lawyer said.

He added that under the 1986 law, a consumer can file a complaint by just writing a two-page letter and the consumer forum has to take a decision on it on merit even in his absence, whereas a litigant has to hire a lawyer to contest a court case and sign a “vakalatnama”, authorising the lawyer to argue the case on his behalf.

The hearing remained inconclusive and would continue on February 21.

In its 2007 judgment, the consumer commission had held that advocates come under the purview of the Consumer Protection Act and can be sued in a consumer court by their clients for any deficiency in service.

The national consumer forum’s verdict had held that the legal services rendered by lawyers would come within the ambit of section 2(1)(o) of the 1986 Act.

Section 2(1)(o) of the Act defines the word “service” to mean a “service of any description, which is made available to potential users and includes, but not limited to, the provision of facilities in connection with banking, financing insurance, transport, processing, supply of electrical or other energy, board or lodging or both, housing construction, entertainment, amusement or the purveying of news or other information, but does not include the rendering of any service free of charge or under a contract of personal service”.

“Undisputedly, lawyers are rendering service. They are charging fees. It is not a contract of personal service. Therefore, there is no reason to hold that they are not covered by the provisions of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986,” the NCDRC had held.

The top court, however, stayed the August 6, 2007 verdict of the NCDRC in April 2009.

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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