Addressing Applicability Of Consumer Protection Act On Advocates


11 July 2024 9:36 AM GMT

  • Addressing Applicability Of  Consumer Protection Act On Advocates
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    Customers' interests are protected in India under the Consumer Protection Act, 1986 (“hereinafter referred to as “the act”). It creates consumer rights and offers a structure for consumer complaints to be resolved by establishing consumer forums and federal, state, and local courts. This law covers unfair commercial practices, product flaws, and inadequate services. Since its inception, there have been various professions and activities which have been in a grey area, regarding whether they fall within the ambit of the act. One such example of this is the profession of medicine and whether doctors are liable under the act, this issue was settled by the Supreme Court ruled in the 1996 case of Indian Medical Association v. V P Shantha that the healthcare and medical industries were included in the term of "services" under the act, 1986, as long as a charge was paid. It concluded that patients anticipated a particular level of care since they were entering into a consumer transaction by paying for medical services. Another important issue in this context is whether the profession of advocacy falls within the ambit of the act.

    Stance of the Courts

    On 9th May, the Supreme Court decided that advocates are not subject to liability under the act for inadequate services. The court determined that such a complaint against an advocate could not be upheld in a consumer forum. A 2007 decision of the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC) was being appealed, and the bench of Justices Bela Trivedi and Pankaj Mithal reversed the commission's decision. The court also hinted that it would be necessary to review its 1996 ruling holding medical practitioners liable under the Consumer Protection Act. It recommended that the Act's definition of "services," which covers the medical industry, be reviewed. The Court noted that the legal profession stood on a very different footing than other professions, citing precedent decisions in State of UP and Orsv. UP State Law Officer Association and Ors and taking into account the element of nobility in the profession. Additionally, the Court avoided adopting a narrow perspective by defining that an advocate's responsibilities extend beyond just helping a client; rather, they include a variety of duties. An advocate's obligations extend beyond just representing their client or opposing party; they also have a fundamental responsibility to support the court. According to the Court, based on the aforementioned principle, the client has direct control over the advocate providing legal services. The court also cited Order III of theCivil Procedure Code(“CPC”), which deals with pleaders and agents, among other things. It concluded that there is still no reasonable question that an advocate whose name is included on a bar council's state roster is qualified to practice law in all courts by jointly reading the relevant portions. However, an advocate can only represent a client via the use of a "vakalatnama." Because of this, a client has a great deal of power over what an advocate does. After considering all of this, the court determined that the essence of the agreement between the client and the advocate is "of service" as opposed to "for service." Therefore, the agreement between a client and an advocate is not included in the Act's definition of "service." The Advocates Act, 1961 is the legislation that controls the practice of law in India. The Bar Council of India, according to Section 49(1)(c) of the Advocates Act, has established comprehensive guidelines for professional behavior and manners. Therefore, in order to file a complaint about misconduct, a client may always get in touch with the State Bar Council, where the involved advocate is registered. The Bar Councils are attentive to situations impacting the legal profession in addition to being watchful. It's clear that concerns about attorneys' behavior are already covered under the Advocates Act. Therefore, insofar as advocates' behavior is concerned, the Advocates Act; a unique law, would take precedence over the Consumer Protection Act's structure. Furthermore, given that there is no universal standard of care or objective test that can be prescribed as the threshold in the case of the legal profession to adjudicate upon the question of abdication of duty to care, the Court's distinction between the legal and the medical professions in this particular case was appropriate. When the particular types of unpredictability involved in a legal issue are taken into consideration, this absence of an objective norm becomes evident. A court case is unexpected since the tactics used and the verdict are largely dependent on the actions of the other side and the interpretation of the law. After more than ten years of litigation, the Hon'ble Supreme Court's ruling finally provides a resolution to the matter. There is always a chance that a case won't be decided exactly, and it's possible that this is due to circumstances beyond the advocate's control. The legal system seeks to provide the greatest and safest method of decision-making that is consistent with human fallibility, as stated in the ruling. Advocates must be free to carry out their responsibilities without worrying about these kinds of consequences. Advocates' immunity is a necessary result of the aforementioned requirement, which the Supreme Court has addressed in this decision.

    The Supreme Court wisely decided to protect the advocacy profession by exempting advocates from responsibility under the Consumer Protection Act of 1986. The Court has guaranteed that advocates may carry out their responsibilities without being unduly burdened by prospective consumer complaints by acknowledging the special character of legal services. This difference recognizes that legal procedures are inherently unpredictable and complicated, setting them apart from other professional services in a big way. The decision also emphasizes how effective the Advocates Act of 1961 was in curbing malpractice in the legal profession. The ruling upholds a strong regulatory structure that is especially designed for the practice of law by reaffirming the Bar Councils' authority to monitor the conduct of advocates. Finally, this strategy protects the legitimacy and efficiency of the legal industry while freeing up advocates to concentrate on their main duty of supporting the court and providing competent client representation.

    The author is a 3rd-year student at the Institute of Law, Nirma University. Views are personal.

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