Cannot stop litigants from filing false civil cases against lawyers: Supreme Court

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The Supreme Court on Thursday remarked that it cannot bar litigants from filing false proceedings against lawyers whose services they were unhappy with [Bar of Indian Lawyers v. DK Gandhi PS National Institute of Communicable Diseases and anr].

A Bench of Justices Bela M Trivedi and Pankaj Mithal reiterated that civil suits can be filed against advocates regardless of the mechanism of filing complaints with bar councils.

In response to arguments that the outcomes of cases depend greatly on courts rather than solely on counsel who argue them, Justice Trivedi remarked,

“But you cannot prevent them from filing false suits…Filing of cases cannot stop.”

Justice Bela M Trivedi and Justice Pankaj Mithal
The Bench was hearing a case raising the question of whether services rendered by advocates come under the Consumer Protection Act of 1986.

The issue arose from a 2007 verdict of the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC) that held that such services come under the Act’s purview, while noting that the monetary contract between a client and their lawyer is bilateral.

The top court had on April 13, 2009 stayed the NCDRC ruling.

The appellants, the Bar of Indian Lawyers, were represented by Senior Advocate Narender Hooda and Advocate Jasbir Malik. Senior Advocate V Giri is the amicus curiae in the case.

The counsel for the appellants today submitted that a remedy before a consumer forum is not needed when litigants can file complaints against lawyers with the Bar Council of India (BCI).

“To consumer court, only a letter needs to be written and complainant need not turn up. Lawyers are not even entitled to advertise. For doctors, the relationship with patient is direct. Outcome is dependent on so many factors.”

The Bench then remarked,

“At least we have not seen doctors advertise so far. Individually, or on radio or TV.”

Hooda replied that advertisements by specialist doctors are common and permissible, but lawyers cannot do the same.

“Laywers cannot give page 1 advertisement. Courts decide direction of cases. Both (sides’) lawyers help it in navigating the arduous terrain in quest for truth. Agency of lawyer goes beyond the money aspect.”

Yesterday, Hooda and Malik had argued that an attorney-client relationship cannot be equated with that of a service provider and consumer. Moreover, the former involves a letter of authorisation/appearance and not a service contract, they said.

It is the BCI and the State Bar Councils that are the authorities to deal with complaints against lawyers, it was stressed.

The Bench had queries as to why lawyers would not come under the ambit of the Act if doctors and medical professionals do.

“If a lawyer does not remain present in the court, and ex-parte decree is passed against his client, the lawyer does not even tell his client why the case was dismissed! Who will be responsible for this? For this kind of negligence, the court does not come in the picture at all…A court can always decide whether it is professional misconduct or negligence,” it had orally remarked.

The hearing will continue on February 21 (Wednesday).

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