The Supreme Court on Wednesday reiterated that Advocates cannot practice any other profession and they are not permitted to earn a livelihood "by any other means".
"We are conscious of the fact that the advocates are bound by Rules which restrict their income only to the profession. They are not permitted to earn a livelihood by any other means," a bench comprised of Chief Justice SA Bobde, Justice AS Bopanna and Justice V. Ramasubramanian observed.
The remarks were made during suo moto proceedings in the case concerning financial difficulties being faced by lawyers, who are at loss of work, amid COVID-19 induced lockdown.
Rules 47 to 52 of Chapter VII of the Bar Council of India Rules impose restrictions on Advocates from taking up other employments.
Rule 47 provides that an advocate shall not "personally engage" in any business though he may be a sleeping partner in a firm. Rue 48 prescribes that an advocate shall not be a Managing Director or a Secretary of any Company. Rule 49 precludes an Advocate from being a "full-time salaried employee" of any person, government, firm, corporation or concern, so long as he continues to practice.
These "Standards of Professional Conduct and Etiquette" have been upheld time and again by the Supreme Court as well as various High Courts.
In Haniraj L Chulani (Dr.) v. Bar Council of Maharastra & Goa, Goa (1996) 3 SCC 342, the Supreme Court denied the plea of a medical practitioner to enroll as an Advocate in the following words:
"It is no doubt true that right to live includes right to livelihood. However the appellant is not denied his right to livelihood. He is already a professional carrying on the profession of a medical practitioner. He wants to have a second string to his bow. He wants simultaneously to be permitted to practise law with a view to earn additional or more livelihood. So far as his aforesaid demand is concerned the impugned rule requires that unless he gives up that other practice and joins wholeheartedly the legal profession he cannot be permitted to enter the legal profession."
"Legal profession requires full time attention and would not countenance an advocate riding two horses or more at a time. He has to be full time advocate or not at all."
The lead was recently followed by the Allahabad High Court in Shiv Kumar Pankha & Anr. v. Allahabad HC & Anr.
To the contrary, the Bar Council of Gujarat recently resolved to permit needy Advocates, who are facing difficulty in meeting ends due to the present lockdown situation, to take up alternative jobs/ businesses, until the end of this year.
However, the resolution is pending approval from the Bar Council of India and is yet to come into force.
"In a meeting conducted on Sunday, the financial situation for more than 75,000 lawyers during the last three months has been difficult and many of them are not able to bear their family responsibilities. So it has been resolved that the needy lawyers having Sanad, keeping the dignity of the profession in mind may take up any other job/business for maintaining financial stability and bearing their family responsibilities. Such Lawyers will be exempted from Section 35 of the Advocates Act till Dec 31, 2020," the State Bar Council had resolved.
Section 35 of the Advocates Act prohibits lawyers from holding the license to practice, if they engage in any other profession, job or business other than legal practice.
During hearing of the suo moto case tiled In Re : Financial Aid For Members Of Bar Affected By Pandemic, the three-Judge bench of the Supreme Court issued notice, returnable within 2 weeks, to the Centre, Bar Council of India, State Bar Councils, each High Court's Registrar General, and recognized High Court Bar Associations.
Noting that the pandemic has taken a "heavy toll on the lives of citizens and, particularly, the legal fraternity," the Court has asked the Respondents to show cause why a fund for relief cannot be set up for deserving and eligible advocates.
This matter is being heard alongside BCI's plea which highlights that the BCI itself does not have the funds to help the lawyers in need.
Case Title: In Re : Financial Aid For Members Of Bar Affected By Pandemic
Case No.: Suo Moto WP(C) No.8/2020
Quorum: Chief Justice SA Bobde, Justice AS Bopanna and Justice V. Ramasubramanian