Supreme Court favours law to regulate hefty fees charged by lawyers
What a lawyer charges a client remains largely unregulated in India. The advocates’ fees rules are only for guidance and there is no bar to money claimed beyond what is fixed under the rules.india Updated: Dec 07, 2017 07:52 IST
The Supreme Court favours a law to check growing commercialisation of the legal profession and to “prescribe floor and ceiling in fees” to ensure the poor were not nudged out of the justice delivery system.
Expressing concern over lawyers demanding “astronomical” fees from litigants, the top court on Tuesday asked the government to ensure that the poor too could get legal assistance from the best lawyers so that their right to equal justice was not violated.
The legal profession should make its services available to the needy on the lines of state-run hospitals, a bench of justice AK Goel and justice UU Lalit said.
“It was observed that like public hospitals for medical services, the public sector should have a role in providing legal services for those who cannot afford fee,” the bench said, citing the 131st law commission report.
What a lawyer charges a client remains largely unregulated in India.
The advocates’ fee rules are only for guidance and there is no bar to money claimed beyond what is fixed under the rules.
The Supreme Court rules 2013 permit a lawyer to charge a maximum of Rs 8,000 per hearing, barely a fraction of what is actually billed.
The country’s top lawyers charge anywhere between Rs 10 lakh and Rs 20 lakh for an appearance in the apex court.
The court also said though a law commission report on ethics in the legal profession was submitted in the year 1988, no effective law was enacted to regularise the fee or for providing the “public-sector services” to needy litigants without any fee or at standardised fee.
However, the legal community is a divided house on the issue. While some believe there should be no regulation of fees, others think otherwise.
Senior advocate and former Supreme Court Bar Association president, Dhushyant Dave says, “The suggestion by the court is completely unconstitutional and illegal. Were the judges who were previously advocates not charging astronomical fees ? It is sad that they now feel that fees should be capped. We are not a communist nation, where everything can be regulated. Lawyers have a fundamental right to practice. It’s not a right order. “
Not everyone agrees with him.
Another Supreme Court lawyer, Gopal Sankaranarayanan, says, “ There should be a cap
on advocate fees. Without a cap, we lose the idea of being a profession and become commodities that go to the highest bidder. In this case, I feel self regulation will fail and government may have to step in.”
The court said commercialisation to the extent of exploiting the litigant and misbehaviour to the extent of browbeating the court needed to be checked.
Breach of professional duties to the court and the litigant affecting the right of a person
to speedy and inexpensive justice should also be looked into, it added.
Lawyers generally charge clients according to their paying capacity. So, the fee varies from client to client, with corporate clients paying the most usually.
For high court cases, lawyers charge anything between Rs 3 - Rs 6 lakh a hearing.
If the lawyer has to travel to other high courts, then the charges could be anywhere between Rs 10 lakh- Rs 25 lakh.
For cases in trial court, lawyers generally bill the client for the entire case, sometimes as much as Rs 10 lakh.
The Supreme Court made the remarks when its attention was drawn to an advocate demanding 16% of the amount received by a client in an accident claim as fee.