New Delhi: Expressing concern over growing commercialisation of the legal profession with lawyers demanding “astronomical” fees from litigants which made it difficult for the poor to access justice, the Supreme Court on Tuesday asked the Centre to bring a law to regulate the field and to prescribe “floor and ceiling of advocate’s fees”.
Referring to various judgments of the apex court and reports of the Law Commission, a bench of Justices Adarsh K Goel and U U Lalit said it was high time the Centre intervened and brought a legislation to maintain ethics in the legal profession and ensure that the poor were not deprived of legal assistance from competent lawyers due to lack of funds. It also deprecated the practice of lawyers demanding a share in their client’s pecuniary benefits awarded by courts and said it was professional misconduct for which action should be taken against erring advocates.
Professional ethics key to justice delivery: SC
Undoubtedly, the legal profession is the major component of the justice delivery system and has a significant role to play in upholding the rule of law. Significance of the profession is on account of its role in providing access to justice and assisting citizens in securing their fundamental and other rights. Can justice be secured with legal professionals failing to uphold professional ethics?” the bench asked.
The bench noted that the Law Commission had recommended a regulatory mechanism for the legal profession and for maintaining “irreducible minimum standards of the profession for ensuring accountability of the legal profession”.
Referring to lawyers’ fees as a barrier to access to justice, the commission had said that it was the duty of Parliament to prescribe fee for services rendered by members of the legal profession. “First step should be taken to prescribe floor and ceiling in fees,” the commission had said in its 131st report submitted in 1988.
In its 266th report, the commission had said the unethical conduct of lawyers contributed to pendency of cases. The commission said there was a huge loss of working days due to calls for unjustified strikes in various high courts and added that such dilatory tactics, including seeking adjournments on unjustified grounds, affected speedy disposal of cases. It also suggested that the Bar Council of India’s constitution undergo achange.
As the Centre failed to bring a law all these years to regulate the profession, the SC reminded the government to take note of the reports and take appropriate decision as there was a need to review the re-“We hope that the concerned authorities in the government will take cognizance of the issue of introducing requisite legislative changes for an effective regulatory mechanism to check violation of professional ethics and also to ensure access to legal services which is major component of access to justice mandated under Article 39A of the Constitution,” it added.
“Though the 131st report was submitted in 1988, no effective law appears to have been enacted to regularise the fee or for providing public sector services to utmost needy litigants without any fee or at standardised fee. Mechanism to deal with violation of professional ethics also does not appear to have been strengthened. Success of administration of justice to a great extent depends on successful regulation of legal profession in the light of mandate under Article 39A for access to justice,” the court said.