The government and the Bar Council of India (BCI) have locked horns over the creation of a proposed new super regulator to enforce ethics and supervise the conduct of more than a million legal professionals in the country.
The BCI, the existing apex regulator for the legal profession and education, has decided to oppose the proposed new law drafted by the law ministry for maintenance of standards for legal practitioners, on the lines of a legal services board in the United Kingdom.
The draft bill titled Legal Practitioners (Regulations and Maintenance of Standards in Professions, Protecting the Interest of Clients and Promoting the Rule of Law), Act, 2010, has been circulated by the ministry for inviting comments from all stakeholders.
Though the BCI is on the backfoot with two of its members facing bribery allegations, it has decided to fight the government move to “make it subservient” to the proposed super regulator, which would have the powers to overrule the BCI and state bar councils.
“It has been summarily decided to oppose the proposed new law. We feel it infringes upon the role of the Bar Council,” said a senior BCI official, adding that views of all the state bar councils have been sought.
“The Bar Council is the apex elected body of more than a million lawyers in the country and it is governed by a five-decade old act passed by the parliament. It can’t be bypassed,” said the official.
The ministry, however, adopted a conciliatory approach. “It is a draft bill on which comments of all concerned and the general public have been invited. No final decision has been take yet,” said a senior ministry official.
Law minister M Veerappa Moily said the government wants the BCI to improve its functioning. “There has to be zero tolerance towards corruption. The entire process of inspections of law colleges should be transparent.”
The minister said the BCI should also reduce its discretionary powers in granting recognition to law colleges. “Clear guidelines should be laid down,” Moily said.
The proposed new law empowers the government to set-up a legal services board to regulate the conduct of all the legal professionals, including those not appearing in courts and currently not covered under the Advocates Act, 1961.
The proposed board would be empowered to establish a consumers panel to “represent the interests of consumers and clients of the legal professionals.”
The draft bill provides for the appointment of a chief ombudsman at the national level and an ombudsman for every state.