Services by lawyers will not fall under Consumer Protection Act: Supreme Court


Chambers of Ishaan Garg

Ch. No. 217, Western Wing, District & Sessions Court, Tis Hazari, New Delhi, Delhi 110054

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The Court said that legal profession is unique and the relationship between advocate and client indicates unique attributes since the client has direct control over the advocate.

The Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled that legal services rendered by lawyers will not fall under the ambit of Consumer Protection Act and litigants cannot claims.

A Bench of Justices Bela M Trivedi and Pankaj Mithal said legal profession is sui generis (unique) and cannot be compared with any other profession.

The relationship between advocate and client indicates unique attributes since the client has direct control over the advocate, the Bench stated.

"Advocates have to respect client's autonomy and are not entitled to make concessions without express instructions from client and transgress authority. Considerable amount of direct control is with client of advocate," the Court opined.

Consequently, it would stand excluded from the ambit of the Consumer Protection Act, the Court concluded/

"This strengthens our opinion that contract is of personal service and is excluded from definition of service under CPA," the judgment said.

Pertinently, the Court ruled that its 1996 decision in Indian Medical Association v. Shanta on medical negligence would need to be reconsidered.

This landmark judgment had held that medical professionals would be accountable under the Consumer Protection Act and that the definition of 'services' under the Act would cover healthcare and medical sector.

"Very purpose of the Act was to protect consumers from unfair trade practices. Nothing to suggest legislature wanted to include professionals. Having said that we have opined IMA vs Shanta decision needs to be revisited," the Court stated.

Hence, it said that the issue regarding the same be placed before the Chief Justice of India to be referred to a larger bench.

The issue regarding lawyers' services arose from a 2007 verdict of the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC) that held that such services come under the Act's purview, while noting that the monetary contract between a client and their lawyer is bilateral.

The top court had on April 13, 2009, stayed the NCDRC ruling

The appellants, the Bar of Indian Lawyers, were represented by Senior Advocate Narender Hooda and Advocate Jasbir Malik. Senior Advocate V Giri served as the Amicus Curiae in the case.

The hearings saw some interesting questions posed on what forum has to adjudicate on deficiency in legal services provided by lawyers.

"We are just inviting the argument, are you not just a mouthpiece of your client? Will you say anything against their interest? Ultimately the client engages you. Lawyer remaining absent, not arguing on ground cited in a civil suit, would it not be deficiency of service," Justice Trivedi had asked.

The counsel for the Bar Council of India (BCI) had stated that advocates perform a sovereign function, and that pleadings have to strictly be line with what the client wishes.

Justice Mithal had pointed out that the BCI rules do not mention the term negligence or any consequences for the same.

On medical profession, Justice Trivedi had stated that the medicine is as noble a profession as law.

The Bench had also rasied queries as to why lawyers would not come under the ambit of the Act if doctors and medical professionals do.

“If a lawyer does not remain present in the court, and ex-parte decree is passed against his client, the lawyer does not even tell his client why the case was dismissed! Who will be responsible for this? For this kind of negligence, the court does not come in the picture at all...A court can always decide whether it is professional misconduct or negligence," it had orally remarked.

It has also remarked that it cannot bar litigants from filing false proceedings against lawyers whose services they were unhappy with.

It had reiterated that civil suits can be filed against advocates regardless of the mechanism of filing complaints with bar councils.

Case Title: Bar of Indian Lawyers v. DK Gandhi PS National Institute of Communicable Diseases and anr (2024 SC)