File Copyright Online - File mutual Divorce in Delhi - Online Legal Advice - Lawyers in India

Advocates' Liability Under Consumer Protection Act, 2019

Supreme Court of India delivered a landmark judgement regarding Advocates' liability under Consumer Protection Act 2019 in the case "Bar of Indian Lawyers v. D.K. Gandhi PS National Institute of Communicable Diseases". The case questioned and the judgement redefined the dynamics of Contract of Service between Advocates and Clients (Consumers). To understand the judgement more clearly, let's define some related terms first.

Definitions of Certain Terms under Consumer Protection Act, 2019

Who is a Consumer

The Consumer Protection Act, 2019 defines a consumer broadly to include any person who buys any goods or avails any services for a consideration. This consideration can be paid or promised, partly paid and partly promised, or under any system of deferred payment. The definition also includes any user of such goods with the approval of the buyer or beneficiary of services. [Section 2(d) of the Consumer Protection Act, 2019]
In essence, the Act protects anyone who purchases goods or services, including those who use the purchased goods with the buyer's permission or those who receive the benefits of services.
Here's an important point to note: The Act excludes people who obtain goods for resale or commercial purposes.

What is meant by "Service"

According to Section 2(42) of the CPA 2019:
"Service means service of any description which is made available to potential users and includes, but not limited to, the provision of facilities in connection with banking, financing, insurance, transport, processing, supply of electrical or other energy, telecom, boarding or lodging or both, housing construction, entertainment, amusement or the purveying of news or other information, but does not include the rendering of any service free of charge or under a contract of personal service.

What is Deficiency of Service

According to Section 2(11):
"Deficiency of Service " means any fault, imperfection, shortcoming or inadequacy in the quality, nature and manner of performance which is required to be maintained by or under any law for the time being in force or has been undertaken to be performed by a person in pursuance of a contract or otherwise in relation to any service and includes-
  1. Any act of negligence or omission or commission by such person which Causes loss or injury to the consumer; and
  2. Deliberate withholding of relevant information by such person to the consumer.

Difference between 'Contact of Service' and 'Contact of Personal Service'

Contract of Service: This is a typical employment contract between an employer and an employee. The employer has significant control over the employee's work, including how, when, and where the work is done. Employees receive benefits like salaries, paid time off, and social security contributions.

Contract of Personal Service: This agreement is between a client and an independent contractor. The contractor has more autonomy over how they perform the work, and they are not entitled to employee benefits. Contractors typically receive a one-time payment for completing a specific project.

Relationship between Advocate and his Client
When we examine the relationship between an Advocate and his Client from this point of view, the following unique attributes become clear:
  • Advocates are generally perceived to be their client's agents and owe fiduciary duties to their clients.
  • Advocates are fastened with all the traditional duties that agents owe to their principals. For example, Advocates have to respect the client's autonomy to make decisions at a minimum, as to the objectives of the representation.
  • 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.
  • An Advocate is bound to seek appropriate instructions from the Client or his authorized agent before taking any action or making any statement or concession which may, directly or remotely, affect the legal rights of the Client.
  • The Advocate represents the client before the Court and conducts proceedings on behalf of the client. He is the only link between the court and the client. Therefore, his responsibility is onerous. He is expected to follow the instructions of his client rather than substitute his judgment.

Bar of Indian Lawyers v. D.K. Gandhi PS National Institute of Communicable Diseases
A recent Supreme Court case, Bar of Indian Lawyers Through Its President Jasbir Singh Malik vs. D.K. Gandhi PS National Institute of Communicable Diseases (2024), has reignited the debate on whether lawyers fall under the purview of the Consumer Protection Act (CPA), 1986. This article delves into the case, analysing the arguments presented, the court's decision, and its potential legal ramifications.

The case stemmed from a 2007 judgment by the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC) which held that legal services are covered by the CPA. This decision in turn arose from a dispute between a client and their lawyer regarding the outcome of a case. The NCDRC, while acknowledging that lawyers aren't responsible for the final verdict, argued that clients can sue for "deficiency in service" if a lawyer fails to fulfil their professional obligations.

This 2007 verdict echoed a similar judgment in the 1995 case, VP Shanta vs. Sukumar Sen, where the Supreme Court itself had initially considered lawyers as service providers under the CPA. However, the final judgment in VP Shanta remained inconclusive, prompting the recent case to revisit this question.

Arguments Presented
The Bar of Indian Lawyers, representing the legal fraternity, challenged the NCDRC's decision. Their primary arguments centred on the unique nature of the lawyer-client relationship:
  • Officers of the Court: Lawyers are considered officers of the court, bound by a code of conduct and professional ethics. Their primary duty lies in upholding the law, not guaranteeing a specific outcome.
  • Independent Functioning: Lawyers exercise independent judgment while representing clients, and the outcome of a case depends on various factors beyond their control.
  • Immunity for Dutiful Performance: Lawyers deserve a degree of immunity for their actions as long as they perform their duties diligently and in good faith.
  • Immunity and Independence: Lawyers require a certain degree of independence to discharge their duties fearlessly. Being subjected to consumer complaints could potentially compromise this independence.
  • Sui Generis Profession: Legal practice is a unique profession, unlike a typical service provider. The outcome of a case depends on various factors beyond a lawyer's control.
  • Fiduciary Relationship: The lawyer-client relationship is one of trust and confidence, not a mere consumer-service provider dynamic.

The Court also heard arguments from an Amicus Curiae (friend of the court) appointed in the case.

This case centred on whether a lawyer's services fall under the purview of the Consumer Protection Act (CPA) of India. The Bar of Indian Lawyers, representing the advocate, argued that legal services are exempt from CPA.

The Supreme Court of India held that legal services are not "services" under the CPA. The court reasoned that advocates are officers of the court and their relationship with clients is one of trust and fidelity, not a consumer-service provider relationship.

The Supreme Court ruled in favour of the Bar of Indian Lawyers, upholding the exemption of legal services from the CPA. This means that consumer courts cannot be used to resolve disputes regarding the quality of legal services provided by advocates in India.

Court's Decision and Legality
The Supreme Court, in a landmark decision, did not deliver a final verdict on the applicability of the CPA to lawyers. Instead, the Court acknowledged the arguments presented by the Bar Council and requested the Chief Justice of India to refer the VP Shanta judgment to a larger bench for reconsideration. This essentially puts the question of lawyer liability under the CPA on hold, with the potential for a more definitive ruling in the future. The Supreme Court's decision to refer the case to a larger bench is a legally sound approach.

The complexity of the lawyer's role and its potential clash with consumer protection principles necessitates a more comprehensive examination. The final judgment from the larger bench will have significant ramifications for both lawyers and clients. It will determine the appropriate balance between consumer rights and the autonomy of the legal profession in India.

Significance of the Decision:
The Court's decision holds significant meaning for both lawyers and clients:
  • For Lawyers: The current decision provides temporary relief from the prospect of being sued under the CPA for a client's dissatisfaction with the outcome of a case. However, the larger bench consideration in VP Shanta could potentially change this.
  • For Clients: Clients seeking recourse for genuine negligence or breach of professional duty by their lawyer might face challenges until a clearer legal framework emerges.

The Judges' Opinion and The Landmark Decision
The Supreme Court, in a significant decision, did not deliver a final verdict on the applicability of the CPA to lawyers. Instead, it recognized the gravity of the issue and requested the Chief Justice of India to refer the 2009 case of VP Shanta vs. Sukumar KM - which had upheld the inclusion of lawyers under the CPA - to a larger bench for reconsideration.

This essentially puts the question on hold until a larger bench can definitively address the nuances of the lawyer-client relationship and its compatibility with the Consumer Protection Act.

Advocates' Liability in Other Countries:
The common thread across these developed nations (US, UK, Japan, Germany, and Australia) is that advocates (lawyers) face professional negligence repercussions if their service falls short. Here's a concise overview:
  • US & UK: Focus on lawsuits for malpractice/breach of duty causing financial loss.
  • Germany & Japan: Professional associations play a bigger role in disciplining lawyers.
  • Australia: Combines elements of both - lawsuits and disciplinary action for breaches.
Relevant Case Laws
State of U.P and Others vs. U.P. State Law Officers Association and Others
Legal profession is essentially a service-oriented profession. The ancestor of today's lawyer was no more than a spokesman who rendered his services to the needy members of the society by articulating their case before the authorities that be. The services were rendered without regard to the remuneration received or to be received. With the growth of litigation, lawyering became a full-time occupation and most of the lawyers came to depend upon it as the sole source of livelihood. The nature of the service rendered by the lawyers was private till the Government and the public bodies started engaging them to conduct cases on their behalf.

Dharangadhra Chemical Works Ltd. Vs. State of Saurashtra and Others
It was observed that it is impossible to lay down any rule of law distinguishing Contract of Service from Contract of Personal Service. It is a question of fact to be decided by all the circumstances of the case. The greater The amount of direct control exercised over the person rendering the services by the person contracting for them the stronger the grounds for holding it to be a contract of service, and similarly the greater the degree of independence of such control the greater the probability that the services rendered are of the nature of professional services and that the contract is not one of service.

Himalayan Cooperative Group Housing Society vs. Balwan Singh and Others
Section II of the said Chapter II of BCI Rules provides for duties of an Advocate towards his client. Rules 15 and 19 of the BCI Rules, have relevance to the subject-matter and therefore, they are extracted below:

It shall be the duty of an advocate to fearlessly to uphold the interests of his client by all fair and honourable means without regard to any unpleasant consequences to himself or any other. He shall defend a person accused of a crime regardless of his personal opinion as to the guilt of the accused, bearing in mind that his loyalty is to the law which requires that no man should be convicted without adequate evidence.

An advocate shall not act on the instructions of any person other than his client or his authorised agent.

In a pivotal ruling, the Supreme Court of India recently clarified that advocates are not liable for deficiencies in services under the Consumer Protection Act, 2019. This landmark judgment redefined the relationship between advocates and clients, emphasizing the unique fiduciary nature of their bond. By recognizing advocates as officers of the court, the Court underscored their duty to uphold legal integrity over ensuring specific case outcomes.

The decision not only safeguards advocates from undue consumer complaints but also preserves the autonomy and trust inherent in the lawyer-client relationship. While the question of advocates' liability remains under scrutiny pending a larger bench review, this ruling sets a crucial precedent, balancing consumer rights with legal professionalism.

  • Consumer Protection Act, 2019
  • Bar of Indian Lawyers Through Its President Jasbir Singh Malik vs. D.K. Gandhi PS National Institute of Communicable Diseases (AIR 2024 SC)
  • State of U.P and Others vs. U.P. State Law Officers Association and Others (AIR 1991 SC)
  • Dharangadhra Chemical Works Ltd. Vs. State of Saurashtra and Others (AIR 1957 SC)
  • Himalayan Cooperative Group Housing Society vs. Balwan Singh and Others (AIR 2015 SC)
  • VP Shanta vs. Sukumar Sen (AIR 1995 SC)

Award Winning Article Is Written By: Mr.Navneet Sharma
Awarded certificate of Excellence
Authentication No: JN415424219387-2-0624

Law Article in India

Ask A Lawyers

You May Like

Legal Question & Answers

Lawyers in India - Search By City

Copyright Filing
Online Copyright Registration


How To File For Mutual Divorce In Delhi


How To File For Mutual Divorce In Delhi Mutual Consent Divorce is the Simplest Way to Obtain a D...

Increased Age For Girls Marriage


It is hoped that the Prohibition of Child Marriage (Amendment) Bill, 2021, which intends to inc...

Facade of Social Media


One may very easily get absorbed in the lives of others as one scrolls through a Facebook news ...

Section 482 CrPc - Quashing Of FIR: Guid...


The Inherent power under Section 482 in The Code Of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (37th Chapter of t...

The Uniform Civil Code (UCC) in India: A...


The Uniform Civil Code (UCC) is a concept that proposes the unification of personal laws across...

Role Of Artificial Intelligence In Legal...


Artificial intelligence (AI) is revolutionizing various sectors of the economy, and the legal i...

Lawyers Registration
Lawyers Membership - Get Clients Online

File caveat In Supreme Court Instantly