Supreme Court: Legal Services Excluded from Consumer Protection Act

Mainstream
15-May-2024
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In a significant ruling, the Supreme Court declared that legal services provided by advocates do not fall within the purview of the Consumer Protection Act, stating that the legal profession is unique and cannot be equated with other professions. The decision came in the case of *Bar of Indian Lawyers v. DK Gandhi PS National Institute of Communicable Diseases and anr*.

A Bench comprising Justices Bela M Trivedi and Pankaj Mithal emphasized the distinctive nature of the relationship between advocates and clients, highlighting the direct control the client maintains over the advocate's actions. The Court asserted that advocates must respect the autonomy of their clients and cannot make concessions without explicit instructions, thus placing considerable control in the hands of the client.

The Court concluded that legal services are excluded from the Consumer Protection Act, reinforcing its stance that the contract between an advocate and client constitutes a personal service and does not fall under the Act's definition of service.

In light of this ruling, the Court announced that its previous decision in the 1996 case of *Indian Medical Association v. Shanta* regarding medical negligence under the Consumer Protection Act would need reevaluation. While acknowledging the Act's objective of safeguarding consumers against unfair trade practices, the Court expressed reservations about including professionals within its ambit. It suggested revisiting the *IMA v. Shanta* judgment and recommended the matter be referred to a larger bench by the Chief Justice of India.

The case originated from a 2007 verdict by the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC), which held that legal services fell under the purview of the Consumer Protection Act. The Supreme Court upheld this ruling on April 13, 2009.

During the hearings, intriguing questions were raised about the adjudication of deficiencies in legal services. The Court pondered on whether lawyers should be held accountable for negligence or deficiency in service and compared the legal profession to the medical profession in terms of accountability.

The appellants, represented by Senior Advocate Narender Hooda and Advocate Jasbir Malik, challenged the NCDRC's ruling. Senior Advocate V Giri served as the Amicus Curiae in the case. The Court's decision underscores the distinct nature of legal services and reaffirms the autonomy of clients in their interactions with advocates.

Author: Anushka Taraniya

News writer, MIT ADT University