The question is pending before the supreme court of India for a judgment. The NCDRC New Delhi held that a lawyer’s services are covered under consumer law in India.
Against the judgment of NCDRC New Delhi the Supreme Court admitted a petition to examine whether lawyers fall within the ambit of the consumer protection law and are liable to pay damages to their clients for unsatisfactory service.
Admitting the petition, a bench of Justices P.P. Noalekar and L.S. Panta issued notice to Delhi resident D.K. Gandhi, who had dragged a city lawyer to the District Consumer Grievances Redressal Forum on charges of providing unsatisfactory legal service to him.
On his complaint, the district consumer forum had in 1988 asked his advocate M. Mathias to pay him Rs.3,000 as damages for providing 'deficient legal service'.
The consumer forum also asked Mathias to pay Gandhi, of the Delhi-based National Institute of Communicable Diseases, litigation cost of Rs.1,000 for forcing him to go to the consumer forum.
Later, on Mathias' appeal Delhi's State Consumer Commission set aside the ruling. But its appellate authority, the National Consumer Dispute Redressal Commission (NCDRC), reversed the order on the basis of an apex court ruling. The apex court had held that lawyers, like doctors and architects, come under the purview of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986.
The Bar of Indian Lawyers, headed by advocate Jasbir Singh Malik, approached the apex court, asking it to decide if lawyers fall within the ambit of the consumer protection law.
Advocate Malik in his petition contended that lawyers cannot be covered under the Consumer Protection Act as they cannot assure success in litigation because the judgements are delivered by the courts, over which lawyers have no control.
Malik also contended that a ruling of a lower court can be challenged before a higher court and if a client refuses to approach a higher court, the lawyers cannot be rendered guilty of providing deficient legal service.
While in the case of Indian Medical Association v. V.P. Shantha and Others - 1995 (6) SCC 651 the Apex Court discussed whether medical practitioner would be covered by the said definition. For this purpose, it was observed that in the matter of professional liability, professions differ from other occupations for the reason that professions operate in spheres where success cannot be achieved in every case and very often success or failure depends upon factors beyond the professional man’s control.
In devising a rational approach to professional liability which must provide proper protection to the consumer while allowing for the factors mentioned above, the approach of the courts is to require that professional men should possess a certain minimum degree of competence and that they should exercise reasonable care in the discharge of their duties.
If there is negligence on the part of medical practitioner, the right of affected person to seek redress would be covered by the Act. Medical practitioners would not be outside the purview of the provisions of the Act. And the same principle would apply in case of service to be rendered by a lawyer.
In Kishore Lal Vs. Chairman, Employees’ State Insurance Corpn. (2007) 4 SCC 579 the Apex observed that “It has been held in numerous cases of this Court that jurisdiction of the Consumer Fora has to be construed liberally so as to bring many cases under it for their speedy disposal. The Act being a beneficial legislation, it should receive a liberal construction”.
In the case of Jacob Mathew vs. State of Punjab – (2005) 6 SCC 1 (para 18) the Apex Court has held that in law of negligence, professionals such as lawyers, doctors, architects and others are included in the category of persons professing some special skill or skilled persons generally and a professional may be held liable for negligence on one of the two findings: either he was not possessed of the requisite skill which he professed to have possessed, or, he did not exercise, with reasonable competence in the given case, the skill which he did possess.
Now we can say that the certainly a lawyer’s client is a consumer, but the verdict in each case will depend on its merits.