Is legal practice a professional activity or a commercial activity?
The Supreme Court had dwelt on the question at length in 2005 and had concluded that it was professional activity. But Delhi High Court has been forced to re-open the issue in a different context.
The court is hearing a plea filed by the Delhi High Court Bar Association (which has around 7,000 advocates as its members) against levy of electricity charges at commercial rates from lawyers using more than 25 per cent of their residential area for professional use as per a rule brought in by the Delhi Electricity Regulatory Commission (DERC).
They seek quashing of the Delhi Electricity Supply Code and Performance Standards Regulations, 2007, which prescribed it.
The bar association has said the lawyers must be charged at domestic rates irrespective of whether they are carrying out professional activity from residential premises, a chamber within the precincts of the court or an office in a notified commercial area individually or in partnership with other advocates.
The Bar contends that their professional activity is run purely on the strength of their knowledge and skill and the tools used —books, paper and computers. It says barring a very few fortunate ones who can afford a separate office for their professional work, a majority of lawyers work from home.
“DERC has no power to frame regulations for providing any classification for purposes of determination of tariff for use of electricity,” KC Miittal, president of the association, argued in court.
“Under what authority of law the use of residential premises by legal professionals partly for domestic purposes and partly for profession purposes could attract non-domestic or commercial rates of charge for electricity consumption,” the association asked.
Miittal argued that even the Delhi Master Plan 2021 allowed professionals like lawyers, doctors, architects and chartered accountants use of up to 50 per cent of their residences for professional activities.
A Bench headed by Justice BD Ahmed has asked the Bar association to make a representation to the DERC and directed the regulatory panel to consider it. The court also wanted an explanation from the DERC on the anomaly between its regulation and the master plan and sought a response by December 14.