Watch | Can you take your lawyer to consumer court for poor services? | Explained

Watch | Can you take your lawyer to consumer court for poor services? | Explained

Can they be sued in ordinary courts for negligence and other malpractices?

Updated - May 16, 2024 07:07 pm IST

Published - May 16, 2024 06:42 pm IST

Have you ever wondered if you can take your lawyer to the consumer court for poor services?

Well, the Supreme Court of India in a verdict delivered on May 14 [Bar of Indian Lawyers v. DK Gandhi PS National Institute of Communicable Diseases and Anr] addressed this exact concern and answered in the negative.

In a significant ruling, a Bench of Justices Bela M Trivedi and Pankaj Mithal opined that the service provided by a lawyer constitutes a “contract of personal service” and is thus excluded from the ambit of “Service” as defined under Section 2, sub-section (42) of the Consumer Protection Act.

The Court reasoned that the Act was enacted to protect consumers solely from unfair trade practices of businessmen and traders and that the legislature never intended to include professionals within its ambit.

Distinguishing between the work of a professional and a businessman, the Court pointed out that the work of a professional requires a high level of education, training and a specialised kind of mental work where achieving success would depend on many other factors beyond a man’s control.

As a result, lawyers cannot be dragged to consumer courts for deficiencies in their services. However, the Court clarified that they can be sued in ordinary courts for negligence and other malpractices.

Importantly, the judges also highlighted that the legal profession is sui generis i.e. unique compared compared to other professions. This is because clients exercise a greater amount of “direct control” over the manner in which advocates render their services. For instance, an enrolled advocate can only practise in a court of law after a client appoints him or her to fight a case through a document known as the “vakalatnama”.

“Advocates are not entitled to make concessions or give any undertaking to the Court without express instructions from the Client. It is the solemn duty of an Advocate not to transgress the authority conferred on him by his Client”, the Court asserted in the verdict.

So how did this matter come up before the top Court?

In a 2007 verdict, the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC), ruled that in case of any deficiency in the services rendered by a lawyer, there could be a complaint against him under the Consumer Protection Act. An appeal was subsequently filed in the Supreme Court by bar bodies such as the Bar Council of India and the Delhi High Court Bar Association following which the verdict was stayed in 2009 by the top Court. Tuesday’s ruling was delivered on this batch of appeals.

Notably, there is also a possibility that doctors can be afforded the same relief following this verdict. The Court underscored on Tuesday that its 1995 judgment in the case of Indian Medical Association v VP Shantha, which brought medical professionals under the ambit of the Consumer Protection Act, required reconsideration by a larger Bench.

This ruling is bound to have a significant impact on the extent of liability of legal professionals in cases of professional misconduct.

Script and presentation: Aaratrika Bhaumik

Production: Shikha Kumari

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