Legal Practitioners Bill

The Law Ministry has invited suggestions on the draft Legal Practitioners (Regulation and Maintenance of Standards in Profession, Protecting the Interests of Clients and Promoting the Rule of Law) Bill 2010 (thanks to the reader who pointed it out to me). Some provisions are highlighted below, with preliminary comments.

Professional Principles
Clause 2(f) defines “Professional Principles” to include:
(i) that the Legal Professionals should act with independence and integrity;
(ii) that the Legal Professionals should maintain proper standards of work;
(iii) that the Legal Professionals should act in the best interest of their clients;
(iv) that the Legal Professionals who are authorised to appear before a court or tribunal, by virtue of being such authorisation should comply with their duty to the court / tribunal to act with independence in the interest of justice;
(v) that the affairs of clients should be kept confidential.

What appears to be missing is an explicit mention of the lawyer’s responsibility to be present at a scheduled court hearings.

Regulatory Objectives:
The Bill defines its regulatory objectives thus:
(a)protecting and promoting the public interest;
(b)supporting the constitutional principle of the rule of law;
(c)improving access to justice;
(d)protecting and promoting the interests of the clients of the legal practitioners;
(e)promoting healthy competition amongst the legal practitioners for improving the quality of service;
(f)encouraging an independent, strong, diverse and effective legal profession with ethical obligations and with a strong sense of duty towards the courts and tribunals where they appear;
(g)creating legal awareness amongst the general public and to make the consumers of the legal profession well informed of their legal rights and duties;
(h)promoting and maintaining adherence to the professional principles.

The Bill proposes to establish a Legal Services Board with broad powers to issue guidelines and regulations in pursuance of its regulatory objectives (clause 12). In addition, it is to assist the Bar Council in the maintenance and development of professional and educational standards (clause 13, see also clause 35). [Does legal education need yet another regulator though?] Clauses 29-34 deal with the relationship between the Board and the Bar Council. The Board is supposed to take the advice of a Consumer Panel into account (clauses 18, 19). The Bill also envisages an Ombudsman to receive complaints against lawyers directly.

Legal Aid
The Bill imposes a duty on every legal practitioner to provide free legal services to certain classes to consumers (clause 27).

Conditions of Service for Interns and Juniors?
One important omission in the Bill seems to be the regulation of the often exploitative relationship between a senior and a junior lawyer. (Readers may be interested in the Report on “Entry Barriers to Litigation” based on a survey and a series of interviews held in 2009 and 2010 by Research Foundation for Governance in India (RFGI). A blog post on the Report can be found here.)

Bar Exams?
Would this Bill have been an appropriate vehicle to give a statutory footing to bar exams? Or, does this matter properly belong to the Advocates Act? The legal profession should brace itself for similar disputes concerning the respective jurisdiction of the Bar Council and the proposed Board, despite the Bill’s attempts to clarify the matter.

Written by
Tarunabh Khaitan
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  • Section 35 of the Bill empowers the Board formed under it, to act as the regulator for those legal practitioners who are not covered by the Advocates Act. It mentions those lawyers whose work is confined to the chambers, etc. as belonging to this category.

    By recognising that there exists a part of the legal profession that is outside the purview of the Advocates Act, the Bill if passed, will negate the reasoning behind Lawyer's Collective judgment which barred foreign lawyers from non-litigious practice.

    I have written this argument in detail here

  • This Bill, when enacted, will definitely change the Indian Legal Scenario for good. At many a times, the lawyers take their clients for a ride after charging hefty legal fees, and at times act as dictators. This bill will protect and safeguard the rights and interests of the litigants, and ensure that ethics and professionalism prevails. But the Law Ministry must ensure that we do not have corrupt babus heading the Legal Services Board, the Consumer Panel and the Ombadsman, otherwise the whole purpose of this bill will be defeated. Let there be transparency and accountability in the working of these board and panels also. Another suggestion is that we need to educate the citizens of this country on all important laws, and functioning of the different courts. The more the legal awareness is created amongst the citizens of this country, the lesser the chance of the litigants being duped.