LEGAL SERVICES NOT INCLUDED UNDER CONSUMER PROTECTION ACT

The profession of law is nothing but of accountability, a client relies on his lawyer for advice, and representation. The protests for lawyers not being dealt under Consumer Protection Act, 1986(CPA,1986) arose after a case in which the Supreme Court declared that medical practitioners were subject to the rules and mechanisms of the CPA, 1986. The case puts a question mark that ‘If doctors can be made liable under the CPA, then why not lawyers’?

It’s the need of the hour to understand that a lawyer unlike other professionals is placed at a very peculiar position, with brilliant possessions and responsibilities both inside and outside. The job of a lawyer is very different from that of a doctor or an architect. A lawyer-client relationship is based on fiduciary obligations. Duties of a lawyer includes representing the interests of his client to the best of his abilities, and on the other hand, he has an onerous obligation as being an officer of the court, he also has to maintain a far greater degree of detachment than other professionals.

Service of lawyers won’t come under the Consumer Protection Act, 1986 as section 2(1)(o) does not include advocates and law professionals under its ambit. As per section 2 (d)(ii) of the Consumer Protection Act “any person who hires or avails of any services for consideration which has been paid or promised is regarded as a ‘consumer of services. There was a question placed before the National Consumer Dispute Redressal Commission (NCDRC) in the Supreme Court case, that whether by virtue of section 35 of Advocates Act, 1961, are advocates amenable to Consumer Protection Act, 1986. In response to which NCDRC held that the service offered by the lawyer to the client was one under the ‘contract of personal service’ and therefore could not be considered as ‘service’ within the meaning of CPA.

The judgment of this case was contradicted in another case in which the National Consumer Redressal Commission made it clear that all professionals, including lawyers, should come under the ambit of the CPA. The National Commission by setting aside the order of state commission stated that lawyers are rendering service as they are charging fee for it and therefore it’s not a contract of personal service and held that they are to be covered by the provisions of the CPA, 1986. It also opposed the State Commission’s idea of unilateral contract between a lawyer and his client and held that it is a bilateral contract between the lawyer and the client which includes the receipt of fees for which the lawyer would appear and represent the matter on behalf of his client. Therefore it’s a bilateral contract.

However, in the case of Bar of Indian Lawyers v. D.K.Gandhi, it was contended by the petitioners that basically the lawyers are the officers of the court who had a duty to assist the court and not to act as a mouthpiece of the client. The duty of a lawyer is to render his assistances to this client and not more than that, whereas in case of the doctor-patient relationship is one to one. Therefore the profession of lawyers can never be compared to either doctors or any other profession.

It is very well known that lawyers render services and charge a fee for it which is the basic requirement of service under CPA, 1986. At the same time, a lawyer may not be responsible for the favorable outcome of a case as the result or the judgment does not depend upon his work or abilities, but he can definitely be liable if there is any deficiency in rendering the services promised by him. But for deficiency in services and for misconduct of advocates, there are provisions for punishment in the Advocates Act, 1961 under which the law professionals are governed. It provides an effective mechanism to take actions against the advocates, if found guilty. Thus, bringing the advocates under the ambit of the CPA may hamper the professional activities and could also lead to filing of frivolous complaints against Advocates. Also, the Bar Council of India points out that the legal profession cannot be viewed as a service for its inclusion under the consumer law because it’s merely an activity in aid and assistance of the justice administration system.

Thus, after analyzing all the arguments and cases I believe that lawyers should not be dealt under Consumer Protection Act, as the profession of law is based on trust and mutual consent. Also they are already governed under Advocates Act 1861, under which any kind of professional misconduct by them is punished.

 

References:

  1. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/topic/Service
  2. https://taxguru.in/finance/lawyers-not-liable-under-consumer-protection-act-1986-sc.html
  3. https://www.barandbench.com/news/draconian-proposal-to-bring-advocates-within-the-ambit-of-consumer-protection-act-bar-council-of-india-writes-to-consumer-affairs-minister
  4. https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/wealth/real-estate/ncdrc-orders-nexgen-infracon-to-refund-29-buyers-money-with-12-interest/articleshow/72950483.cms
  5. https://www.businesstoday.in/moneytoday/consumer-rights/questioning-the-law/story/8327.html
  6. https://www.latestlaws.com/latest-news/bar-council-objects-to-inclusion-of-lawyers-under-the-consumer-protection-act-2019-read-letter-here/
  7. https://www.tribuneindia.com/news/nation/bar-opposes-inclusion-of-lawyers-under-consumer-protection-act-54595

 

-Bhakti Rathi

NMIMS Kirit P. Mehta School of Law