The Supreme Court, on Thursday (February 29), concluded the hearing and reserved judgment on the issue of whether advocates can be held liable under the Consumer Protection Act for deficiency of services. The matter was heard by a Bench comprising Justices Bela Trivedi and Pankaj Mithal, with Senior Advocate V Giri acting as the amicus curiae.

The issue stemmed from a 2007 judgment by the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission, which held that services rendered by lawyers fall under Section 2(o) of the Consumer Protection Act. This provision defines “Service” and includes legal services. However, the Supreme Court had stayed this judgment in 2009, and the matter has now resurfaced for reconsideration.

Giri, in his arguments, highlighted two crucial aspects. Firstly, he distinguished between lawyers engaged for court appearances and those approached for legal services like opinions, consultations, and drafting agreements. He emphasized that lawyers acting on behalf of clients in court proceedings operate under a contract of agency, where the advocate’s actions bind the client.

Citing legal precedents, Giri underscored that lawyers are agents of their clients and act on their behalf within the confines of court proceedings. He argued that once a lawyer appears in court on behalf of a client, the relationship shifts from a service provider-consumer dynamic to that of agent-principal, thus exempting lawyers from liability under the Consumer Protection Act.

Section 2(o) of the Consumer Protection Act defines “service” as any activity carried out for consideration, which includes the provision of facilities in connection with banking, financing, insurance, transport, processing, supply of electrical or other energy, board or lodging or both, housing construction, entertainment, amusement, or the purveying of news or other information. Essentially, it encompasses any activity provided in exchange for payment, covering a wide range of services across various sectors.
Giri also highlighted the procedural challenges involved in adjudicating consumer complaints against lawyers. He cautioned against parallel proceedings, where a negligence complaint against a lawyer could run concurrently with an appeal from the original case. This could lead to conflicting findings and undermine the efficacy of consumer protection remedies.

Additionally, other arguments presented by senior advocates representing various bar associations emphasized the importance of preserving the independence of the legal profession. They argued against subjecting lawyers to consumer protection laws, asserting that advocacy is a manifestation of the fundamental right to freedom of expression.

The Supreme Court bench heard submissions from all parties involved, including those advocating for and against bringing lawyers under the purview of the Consumer Protection Act. Senior advocate Vikas Singh emphasized the distinction between the legal and medical professions, suggesting that the inclusion of lawyers under consumer protection laws would lead to undue harassment.

As the court reserved judgment, the legal fraternity awaits a decision that could have far-reaching implications for the legal profession and the scope of consumer protection laws in India.

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