Laws for lawyers

Can advocates be relied upon to punish themselves?

Written by The Indian Express | Published:March 9, 2009 1:01 am

In few other countries in the world do lawyers have it so good. While some complain that archaic Indian norms prevent lawyers from advertising,it’s a small price to pay for a world of luxuries — protection from being sued in consumer courts,little court oversight,and a regulatory structure that rarely takes action against ill-behaved advocates. And in any case,the price is paid by others: poor litigants inconvenienced by strikes,clients who cannot sue for malpractice and the general public alarmed at a justice system that does not deliver.

The Srikrishna Commission’s interim report on the violence in the Madras High Court strongly criticised lawyers and recommended reforms in lawyer regulation. At the heart of the problem: the Bar Council of India,tasked with punishing errant advocates,has turned into a lawyer’s lobby instead. This regulatory paradox has plagued other countries too. After decades of putting up with a Lawyer’s Society in charge of both regulating and protecting solicitors,the UK passed the Legal Services Act,2007; its express purpose was to set up an independent board to examine allegations of lawyer misconduct. The US has a slightly different system. State supreme courts can hear allegations against lawyers and take suitable action,in addition to the state bar. And unlike in India,lawyers can be — and are — sued in court for faulty services. These steps ensure that lawyers are not the only ones keeping an eye on their own; that task is shared by the courts or by an independent authority.

Perhaps the time has come to reform the Bar Council in India. One way would be to give courts more power and involve the

judiciary in keeping tabs on the men in black. Another would be to appoint non-lawyers to the Bar Council,or completely outsource the job of punishing lawyers.

Professional guilds — such as the Bar Council and the Medical Council of India — cannot protect as well as punish. A whiff of outside air is surely welcome.

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