Lawyers do not come under the Consumer Protection Act: Supreme Court

In a landmark decision on Tuesday, the Supreme Court ruled that lawyers do not fall under the Consumer Protection Act and thus cannot be sued for “deficiency in service” in consumer courts. The bench, comprising Justices Bela M Trivedi and Pankaj Mithal, emphasized that the legal profession is sui generis (unique), noting that its specialized nature distinguishes it from other professions.

Regarding the definition of “service,” the Supreme Court examined whether services provided by advocates would be covered under the 1986 and 2019 Consumer Protection Acts. The court highlighted that these definitions exclude services rendered free of charge or under a personal service contract. The court further pointed out that the legal profession is unique because the work of advocates impacts not only individuals but also the entire administration of justice, which is fundamental to a civilized society. The court underscored that the legal profession is a solemn and serious one.

The bench also questioned the correctness of the three-judge decision in the Indian Medical Association versus V.P. Shantha & Others case, where it was determined that the broad definition of ‘service’ in Section 2(1)(o) of the Consumer Protection Act included services provided by medical practitioners.

This judgment came in response to a plea by bar associations and other individuals challenging a 2007 National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC) ruling that included advocates and their services under the Consumer Protection Act, 1986. The Supreme Court had stayed the NCDRC’s August 6, 2007, decision in April 2009.

The bench clarified that while professionals can still be sued or held liable for misconduct or criminal acts, this ruling specifically excludes them from being sued under the Consumer Protection Act for service deficiencies.

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