The Supreme Court on Tuesday Tuesday issued notice in a plea seeking issuance of directions to the Bar Council of India to permit use of advertisements for lawyers till March 2021, allow public listings so that other para-legal work can be taken up by them to earn their livelihood in light of the pandemic situation and allow alternative means of sustenance.
A bench of Chief Justice SA Bobde, N. Subhash Reddy & AS Bopanna issued notice to the Bar Council of India. The notice is returnable in 2 weeks.
The PIL has been filed by a practicing lawyer and Senior Standing Counsel to the income Tax Department, Charanjeet Chanderpal, in his capacity as Secretary General of a Non Governmental Organisation by the name of Nitya Law Society.
Averring that existing rules need to be altered in order to accommodate advocates who are from middle and lower middle class and are unable to sustain themselves, the plea states,
In such situations, for persons other than advocates, if one option to earn to sustain is affected, they can look for alternatives and endeavour that would come in their way. However, if an advocate works outside his profession to stabilise his income, the regulations that govern the conduct of advocates will consider it as professional misconduct".
In this backdrop, it highlights the loss of income that advocates have faced during the pandemic and subsequent lockdown as a result of which there have been reports of suicides, depression and inability to subsist. Therefore, the plea prays that changes be brought forth in the Bar Council of India Rules by issuance of a circular or modification or issuing a corrigendum or suspension of current rules as well as initiate modifications under Section 49 of the Advocates Act, 1961.
"There are reports of suicides as a result of no work, medical depression, advocates's family members expiring due to no money to pay medical fees, reports of there being domestic violence in the houses of advocates. This is widely known as the internet is full of this information. This is happening all over India and times has come that the Bar Council of India must allow relaxations within the Rules. The same is applicable to the whole of India and time has come that the Bar Council of India must allow relaxations within the rules".
The petitioner avers that a long term solution is a must in these unprecedented crisis instead of "providing Rs. 5000 or 3000 per lawyer". Illustrating the recent commission of suicide by a 35 year old lawyer, the petitioner states that many of his acquaintances are going through a financial crunch and that even Senior Advocates with selective practice are going through a financial crunch due to closure of courts.
"A number of cases of advocates getting suicidal thoughts, suffering from depressing, suffering from no income, suffering from starvation and no income- all as a result of closure of courts..... Our NGO to propose the contents of this submission ... This is necessary for the survival of the advocates belonging to the middle and lower middle class. The representation there represents lakhs of advocates across our country who have stood affected."
To substantiate the same, the plea puts forth suggestions to allay the problems faced by lawyers which include:
1) Clarification of Chapter III Rule 2 of the Bar Council Rules viz. permission to advocates to be sleeping director or sleeping partner so that they can be inducted as "legal retainers" and legal advisors in organisations as there are wrong impressions in this regard.
2) Issuance of a circular permitting use of advertisements and whatsapp messages to permit advocates to take up chamber work like income tax assistance, GST assistance, registration of societies, trusts including assistance in online filing of cases.
3) Official notification, keeping in view the current covid situation, allowing advocates to earn their livelihood by alternative means along with an undertaking that the same shall not continue after March 2021.