9 Nov 2010

Draft law for regulating legal professionals unveiled

The Ministry of Law and Justice, Government of India has recently unveiled the draft "Legal Practitioners (Regulations and Maintenance of Standards in Professions, Protecting the Interest of Clients and Promoting the Rule of Law) Act, 2010" inviting suggestions from public. Downloaded from its website, the draft bill aims to provide for multifarious objectives i.e. "the establishment of the Legal Services Board and in respect of its functions; to make provision for, and in connection with, the regulation of persons who carry out the activities of legal practitioners; to make provisions for the establishment of an ombudsman for complaints against the professionals and for a scheme to consider and determine complaints against the legal practitioners; to make provision in respect of providing legal services free of charge and for connected purposes". 
The draft law extends beyond the regulation of practising advocates alone in as much as the term 'legal practitioners' has been defined in a wide and comprehensive manner to include those not appearing before courts as well. It provides that for the purpose of the Act "Legal Professionals means the Advocates as defined in the Advocates Act, 1961 and includes the qualified lawyers engaged in legal practice confined to their chamber, engaged in drafting and conveyancing, practitioner of income tax and sale tax and those appearing before the relevant authorities, giving advise to the clients for a fee, gain or reward in the areas of customs, immigrations, trademark and patent services and all other professional services where legal issues are involved".  
Further, the draft law also provides for the professional principles which its obliges the legal professional to follow, which are as under;
(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 authorise 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.
Further, the aim behind enactment of this proposed law is also provided for in the draft bill itself wherein the reasons have been enumeated as the regulatory objectives as under;
(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. 
Towards attainment of these objectives, the draft bill provides for the establishment of a "Legal Service Board" which would regulate its own procedure and word towards the attainment of the objectives stated in the law, while the funding for the Board is envisaged by imposing additional court fees on vakalatnams executed by clients authorising their legal practitioners. The Board is also required to assist the Bar Council of India in respect of maintenance and development of standards for advocates and the eduction and training of legal professionals in general. In order to ward off any controversies in this regard, the draft law itself provides that the "Legal Services Board shall have full authority to deal with the regulatory objectives in this Act and the Bar Council of India and State Bar Councils shall continue to exercise the functions assigned to them by Advocates Act, 1961".

The Act specifically provides that the the Board shall act as the regulator for the following professionals;
1. Qualified lawyers who are not practicing advocates, doing legal services in their Chambers.  
2. Qualified lawyers engaged in drafting and conveyancing.  
3. Income-Tax Practitioners.
4. Sales-Tax Practitioners.  
5. Practitioners in Revenue Courts.  
6. Customs clearance agents.  
7. Customs and Immigration Law Practitioners.  
8. Trademark attorneys / lawyers.  
9. Patent attorneys / lawyers.
The draft law also mandates every legal professional to give free legal service to the financially weaker consumers/clients while acting in a manner "as to give an opportunity to the consumer / client to make informed choices about the quality, access and value of the legal services he requires" while also providing for the establishment of (i) "Consumer Panels" to represent the interest of the consumers of legal profession; (ii) "Ombudsmen" for each State to deal with the complaints against legal professionals. 

1 comment:

Arvind Singh said...

Nice article, I agree that the bill goes beyond the regulation of lawyers practicing only that 'the legal profession', the term has been defined broadly to include full and appearing before the courts as well.