Don’t Claim Fee Based On Case’s Outcome: Top Court To Lawyers

NEW DELHI: An advocate claiming his fee based on the outcome of a case is professional misconduct and against public policy, the Supreme Court said on Tuesday.

The top court said it hoped the government would heed the issue and introduce requisite legislative changes for an effective regulatory mechanism to check violation of professional ethics in the legal profession.

While relying on an earlier verdict of the top court, it said commercialisation to the extent of exploiting the litigant and misbehavior to the extent of browbeating the Court by some members of the legal fraternity, breached the professional duties towards the court and the litigant and need to be checked.

The bench was hearing a case regarding an advocate who had filed complaint against his client. The top court termed the complaint filed over dishonouring of a cheque as “abuse of the process of law” and quashed it.

A woman, B Sunitha, whose husband had died in a road accident in 1998, had filed for claim before the Motor Accident Claims Tribunal (MACT) through an advocate. The MACT awarded compensation to the woman of which she paid Rs. 10 lakh to the advocate as his fees on different dates.

The lawyer made the woman sign another cheque of Rs. 3 lakh despite her saying that she had no money in her account. However, the cheque got dishonoured due to insufficient funds and the lawyer lodged a case against her under section 138 of Negotiable Instrument Act.

The Andhra Pradesh High Court ruled in favour of the lawyer and had dismissed the petition of woman, who later moved the top court.

The top court, however, refused permission to allow the advocate to withdraw the case, saying having “committed a serious professional misconduct, the respondent No. 2 (advocate) could not be allowed to avoid adverse consequences which he may suffer for his professional misconduct. The issue of professional misconduct may be dealt with at appropriate forum”.

Referring to 131st report of Law Commission, the top court said it was observed that recurring strikes by the bar had contributed to the piling up of arrears jeopardising the ‘consumers of justice’ and led to weakening of the system of administration of justice.

It said that the report also considered various aspects like astronomical fees charged by lawyers and role of the legal profession in strengthening the administration of justice.

The court said though the Report was submitted way back in 1988, no effective law was enacted to regularise the fee or for providing the public sector services to utmost needy litigants without any fee or at standardised rates.

“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,” it said.

The court said that deficiency in the working of the present regulatory mechanism has been acknowledged by the court in several decisions and mandate for the bench and the bar is to provide speedy and inexpensive justice to the victim of justice to protect their rights.