Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Legal Practitioners Act: Impact -

The Legal Practitioners (Regulations and Maintenance of Standards in Professions, Protecting the Interest of Clients and Promoting the Rule of Law) Act, 2010 (LPA) since its proposition by the Ministry of Law and Justicein November 2010, has been at the receiving end of flak. The LPA proposes to establish a Legal Services Board on the lines of the Legal Services Board (LSB) in the UK, suiting the Indian situation.

The LPA has been opposed by advocates in Tamil Nadu with lawyers in Madras boycotting court proceedings on December 10, 2010 claiming that the LPA would “usurp the powers of the All India Bar Council”, reports the Hindu. The strike was followed later by theSalem Bar on December 23, 2010 in protest against the LPA.

Managing Partner Rajiv Luthra of Luthra and Luthra and Senior Vice-President of the Society of Indian Law Firms, in an exclusive interview with Bar & Bench has also opposed the LPA and said, “SILF is opposing this proposal because it does not see the need for a super-regulator above the Bar Council of India, which already regulates all the State Bar Councils. Everyone’s efforts would be better spent in finding solutions for the problems currently faced by the Bar Councils and strengthen systems and procedures, rather than adding a new layer of unelected bureaucracy in the hope that this will somehow fix issues”.

The Bar Council of India according to its Chairman Gopal Subramanium at the recently held Commonwealth Law Conference stated, that the Bar Council is proposing a new set of ethical norms for lawyers by the year end. The new guidelines were simple and drawn mostly from South African principles and the Bar Council has decided to update and make the guidelines more realistic as they were not revisited since they were framed in 1962-63, reports the Hindu.

Bar & Bench spoke with Harish Narasappa (pictured) Co-Founder Partner of Narasappa, Doraswamy & Raja, a leading law firm in Bangaluru on the impact of the proposed Legal Services Board under the Legal Practitioners Act.

B&B: The Legal Practitioners Act (LPA) proposes to set up a Legal Services Board (LSB). What do you think will be the impact of the LSB being set-up, in a country like India?

Harish Narasappa: The impact will depend on the people appointed to the LSB. If the right people are appointed to the Board, the LSB can provide a much needed and frankly overdue leadership to the profession in the country in terms of continuing education, active propagation and enforcement of ethical standards, improving processes of law making and adjudication processes.

B&B: Your thoughts on boycotting of the Legal Practitioners Act by States (like Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu) for reasons of fear that the LSB will interfere with the freedom of lawyers.

Harish Narasappa: Meaningful regulation of the profession is necessary, but such regulation should not interfere with the functioning of lawyers who have an important role in ensuring the rule of law. The boycott is premature and not correct. As lawyers we should use the law and its processes even in opposing legislation. There is no doubt that the LPA (as it is currently proposed) is not good enough and appears to be a hastily put together draft (it even has typographical errors!!). We should engage with the ministry to make the LPA better.

B&B: The LSB appoints an Ombudsman, who will have the power to conduct an inquiry on a complaint filed by a consumer/client of a legal professional (A frivolous complaint could cause damage and loss of image to a professional in the process of an inquiry).

Harish Narasappa: The dilemma you mention is common in every profession, but that should not be the reason for not having a meaningful redressal mechanism. Unfortunately, there are bad eggs in the profession, and we need to make sure they are brought to the book under law. As lawyers, we should be the profession that takes the lead to protect the sanctity of the law.

B&B: The LSB mandates a legal professional to impart free legal aid to the financially weaker sections. Do you think mandating legal aid acts as a solution?

Harish Narasappa: No, I do not think this is a solution. It is almost impossible to enforce such a provision. Instead, the LPA should encourage more number of lawyers to assist the financially weaker sections by giving credit to such work. For example, a number of law firms in London encourage their lawyers to do legal aid and such work is an important consideration for continued growth in the firm. Something similar needs to happen here on an institutional level.

B&B: What do you propose should be the aim of the LSB?

Harish Narasappa: In my view, the LPA and the LSB should aim to restore the integrity and dignity of the profession, which has been bruised badly over the past few decades. This can only be done by improving standards of the profession, both at entry level and on a continuous basis through continuing education and training. This has unfortunately never been done properly by the Bar Councils, although they have taken a first step in the form of the Bar exam recently. Further, the LPA should also meaningfully regulate improper behavior by members of the profession, either through the Bar Councils or otherwise. For example, how many lawyers who are photographed vandalizing public property during protests have been actually punished over the last few decades? 

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