10 July 2023 9:10 AM GMT
The Bombay High Court recently issued notice to Apex Insurance Consultant Ltd., an insurance provider, in a PIL alleging that the company is engaging in unauthorised practice of law by promising to handle all litigation for doctors who take its membership.“The Respondent No.1 (Apex Insurance) is into a practice of promising the doctors that they are having the expertise to handle all kinds...
The Bombay High Court recently issued notice to Apex Insurance Consultant Ltd., an insurance provider, in a PIL alleging that the company is engaging in unauthorised practice of law by promising to handle all litigation for doctors who take its membership.
“The Respondent No.1 (Apex Insurance) is into a practice of promising the doctors that they are having the expertise to handle all kinds of litigation and have expert advocates in their panel to whom their case will be entrusted. They solicit the legal work through this mode. Thus, when any litigation or legal work arises from the said doctors and Hospitals who have opted for their membership, the said Respondent No.1 then start searching for advocates who are ready and willing to conduct the case and then give their proposal of fees which are normally fixed for a particular type of matter”, the petition states, adding that Apex insurance is operating like a law firm without any registration with the Bar Council in India or any State Bar Council.
A division bench of Acting Chief Justice Nitin Jamdar and Justice Arif S Doctor sought the response of the company after Bar Council of India (BCI) and Bar Council of Maharashtra and Goa (BCMG) concurred with the petitioner’s contentions.
“The learned counsel for Bar Council of India and the Bar Council of Maharashtra and Goa state that the contention raised by the Petitioner that the activities carried out by Respondent No. 1 are in contravention of the Advocates Act, 1961 and the Rules framed thereunder, is correct. Issue notice to Respondent No. 1, returnable on 2 August 2023”, the court said.
The petition, filed by Nilesh Khandale, a practicing advocate, contends that the insurance company is violating the fundamental rights of advocates under Article 21 and Article 19(1)(g) of the Constitution. According to the petition, there are several insurance companies operating in the same manner and flouting all norms of the legal profession. However, due to limited resources, the Petitioner cannot gather further information regarding the other companies, and is thus taking the case of Apex Insurance as a sample case to unearth the illegalities committed by such companies, the petition states.
The petition filed through Advocate Vaibhav Kulkarni seeks an injunction restraining Apex Insurance from continuing its activities and directions to BCI and BCMG to initiate proceedings against the directors of the company. It also seeks directions to BCI and BCMG to conduct an inquiry into other companies operating similarly and raise awareness among lawyers and the public.
BCMG in its reply affidavit has stated that it has not received any complaint against Apex Insurance. However, based on the petitioners’ submissions BCMF has stated that Apex Insurance is profiteering from the legal profession without being registered as an advocate or law firm. Though the company does not physically appear in court, its activities still qualify as legal practice, as per the affidavit filed by Pravin Y. Ranpise, the Secretary of BCMG.
BCMG has further contended that Apex Insurance acts as a tout, seeking clients for panel advocates indirectly through its marketing and advertising activities, violating Rule 36 of the BCI Rules, which prohibits advocates from soliciting work or advertising.
According to the response affidavit, by offering legal services and handling cases on behalf of doctors and hospitals, the company reduces the fees and livelihood opportunities for advocates.
BCMG in it response has further stated that Apex Insurance is violating various Rules of the BCI, including those related to keeping accounts, sharing remuneration with non-advocates, acting on instructions from unauthorized persons, and facilitating the unauthorized practice of law. Such violations warrant action under the Advocates Act, including potential penalties, as per the affidavit.
Thus, the BCMG has sought directions to Apex Insurance to provide full disclosure of the nature of its activities and details of remuneration it receives from the doctors/hospitals and the system of legal fees paid by it to its empaneled advocates.
Case no. – Public Interest Litigation No. 154 of 2022
Case Title – Nilesh Laxman Khandale v. M/s. Apex Insurance Consultant Ltd. & Ors.
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