09 Jun 2024



Advocates and the Consumer Protection Act: A Detailed Examination

The relationship between legal practitioners and their clients is nuanced, marked by fiduciary duties and ethical obligations. However, when services rendered by advocates fall short, the question arises: Can advocates be held liable under the Consumer Protection Act? This blog delves into this query, examining the legal landscape, judicial interpretations, and implications of holding advocates accountable under consumer law.

The Consumer Protection Act: An Overview

The Consumer Protection Act, 1986, and its successor, the Consumer Protection Act, 2019, are cornerstone legislations in India aimed at safeguarding consumer rights against deficiencies in goods and services. However, the applicability of these laws to advocates has been a contentious issue. This article explores whether advocates can be held liable under the Consumer Protection Act, reviewing statutory provisions, case law, and judicial interpretations.

Understanding the Consumer Protection Act

The Consumer Protection Act was enacted to protect consumers from unfair trade practices, defective goods, and deficient services. Key definitions under the Act include:

Consumer: Any person who buys goods or hires services for a consideration, excluding those who obtain goods for resale or commercial purposes. Section 2(d) of the Consumer Protection Act, 2019, states that the Act protects anyone who purchases goods or services, including those who use the purchased goods with the buyer’s permission or those who receive the benefits of services.

Service: Defined broadly to include a range of activities but excluding services rendered free of charge or under a contract of personal service. According to Section 2(42) of the CPA 2019, “Service means service of any description which is made available to potential users and includes, but not limited to, the provision of facilities in connection with banking, financing, insurance, transport, processing, supply of electrical or other energy, telecom, boarding or lodging or both, housing construction, entertainment, amusement or the purveying of news or other information, but does not include the rendering of any service free of charge or under a contract of personal service.”

The pivotal question is whether legal services fall under the ambit of the Consumer Protection Act.

The Role of Advocates: Service Providers or Not?

Advocates, as per their professional obligations, provide legal advice, represent clients in courts, and perform other legal functions. The debate centers on whether these services can be classified as “services” under the Consumer Protection Act, thereby subjecting advocates to consumer complaints for deficiency in service.

Judicial Interpretations and Landmark Cases

Judicial pronouncements have played a crucial role in defining the boundaries of the Consumer Protection Act concerning legal services. Key cases include:

Indian Medical Association v. V.P. Shantha (1995)

The Supreme Court ruled that medical professionals fall under the purview of the Consumer Protection Act, thus broadening the scope to include professional services. This decision spurred debates on the inclusion of legal services.

D.K. Gandhi v. M. Mathias (2007)

The National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC) held that legal services are covered under the Consumer Protection Act, subjecting advocates to potential liability for deficiency in service. The case emphasized that clients are consumers and advocates are service providers.

Vinay Chandra Mishra (1995)

While not directly related to the Consumer Protection Act, this case underscored the professional duties and ethical obligations of advocates, hinting at the potential for liability under consumer law.

Bar of Indian Lawyers v. D.K. Gandhi (2024)

A recent Supreme Court case, Bar of Indian Lawyers Through Its President Jasbir Singh Malik v. D.K. Gandhi PS National Institute of Communicable Diseases (2024), has reignited the debate on whether lawyers fall under the purview of the Consumer Protection Act (CPA), 1986. This article delves into the case, analyzing the arguments presented, the court’s decision, and its potential legal ramifications.

Background and Case Analysis

The case stemmed from a 2007 judgment by the NCDRC, which held that legal services are covered by the CPA. This decision arose from a dispute between a client and their lawyer regarding the outcome of a case. The NCDRC, while acknowledging that lawyers aren’t responsible for the final verdict, argued that clients can sue for “deficiency in service” if a lawyer fails to fulfill their professional obligations. This 2007 verdict echoed a similar judgment in the 1995 case, VP Shanta v. Sukumar Sen, where the Supreme Court itself had initially considered lawyers as service providers under the CPA. However, the final judgment in VP Shanta remained inconclusive, prompting the recent case to revisit this question.

Arguments Presented

By the Bar of Indian Lawyers

The Bar of Indian Lawyers, representing the legal fraternity, challenged the NCDRC’s decision. Their primary arguments centered on the unique nature of the lawyer-client relationship:

  1. Officers of the Court: Lawyers are considered officers of the court, bound by a code of conduct and professional ethics. Their primary duty lies in upholding the law, not guaranteeing a specific outcome.

  2. Independent Functioning: Lawyers exercise independent judgment while representing clients, and the outcome of a case depends on various factors beyond their control.

  3. Immunity for Dutiful Performance: Lawyers deserve a degree of immunity for their actions as long as they perform their duties diligently and in good faith.

  4. Immunity and Independence: Lawyers require a certain degree of independence to discharge their duties fearlessly. Being subjected to consumer complaints could potentially compromise this independence.

  5. Profession: Legal practice is a unique profession, unlike a typical service provider. The outcome of a case depends on various factors beyond a lawyer’s control.

  6. Fiduciary Relationship: The lawyer-client relationship is one of trust and confidence, not a mere consumer-service provider dynamic.

Arguments Against Inclusion

Several arguments have been advanced against holding advocates liable under the Consumer Protection Act:

  1. Fiduciary Relationship: The relationship between an advocate and client is fiduciary, based on trust and confidentiality, which differs fundamentally from typical consumer-service provider relationships.

  2. Professional Ethics and Regulation: Advocates are governed by the Advocates Act, 1961, and the Bar Council of India rules, which provide mechanisms for addressing professional misconduct and negligence. Introducing consumer liability could lead to dual regulation and conflicting judgments.

  3. Nature of Legal Services: Legal outcomes are often uncertain and contingent on various factors beyond the advocate’s control, making it challenging to assess deficiencies in service.

Arguments for Inclusion

Conversely, proponents for including advocates under the Consumer Protection Act argue:

  1. Consumer Rights: Clients are consumers seeking a specific service (legal advice/representation) and should be protected from deficiencies or misconduct, similar to other professional services.

  2. Accountability and Redressal: The Consumer Protection Act provides a more accessible and expedient forum for redressal compared to professional regulatory bodies, enhancing accountability.

  3. Precedents from Other Professions: The inclusion of medical professionals sets a precedent for holding other professionals accountable under consumer law.

International Perspectives

United States

In the U.S., lawyers are subject to malpractice suits, and the legal framework provides robust mechanisms for consumer protection within the professional service domain. The regulation of lawyers is primarily managed at the state level by state bar associations and the American Bar Association (ABA). Consumer protection laws apply to legal services, but specific rules govern the legal profession. Each state has its own rules of professional conduct, enforced by state bar associations, which set standards for attorney behavior and handle disciplinary actions. Lawyers can be subject to consumer protection laws like the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) regulations if their conduct involves unfair or deceptive practices. However, most complaints about legal services are handled through state bar disciplinary processes or malpractice lawsuits rather than general consumer protection statutes.

United Kingdom

In the UK, the Legal Services Act, 2007, and the Consumer Rights Act, 2015, offer protections to clients of legal services, balancing professional regulation with consumer rights. Lawyers (solicitors and barristers) are primarily regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) and the Bar Standards Board (BSB). Consumer protection laws are designed to protect consumers from unfair practices in commercial transactions, and legal services do fall within the scope of these laws to some extent. The Legal Ombudsman handles complaints about poor service, while the SRA and BSB handle issues related to professional conduct and ethics. The Consumer Rights Act 2015 ensures that services, including legal services, are provided with reasonable care and skill, though liability is often nuanced and subject to professional standards and regulations.


The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Bar of Indian Lawyers, upholding the exemption of legal services from the CPA. This means that consumer courts cannot be used to resolve disputes regarding the quality of legal services provided by advocates in India.

Court’s Decision and Legal Implications

The Supreme Court, in a landmark decision, did not deliver a final verdict on the applicability of the CPA to lawyers. Instead, the Court acknowledged the arguments presented by the Bar Council and requested the Chief Justice of India to refer the VP Shanta judgment to a larger bench for reconsideration. This essentially puts the question of lawyer liability under the CPA on hold, with the potential for a more definitive ruling in the future. The Supreme Court’s decision to refer the case to a larger bench is a legally sound approach. The complexity of the lawyer’s role and its potential clash with consumer protection principles necessitates a more comprehensive examination. The final judgment from the larger bench will have significant ramifications for both lawyers and clients. It will determine the appropriate balance between consumer rights and the autonomy of the legal profession in India.

In a pivotal ruling, the Supreme Court of India recently clarified that advocates are not liable for deficiencies in services under the Consumer Protection Act, 2019. This landmark judgment redefined the relationship between advocates and clients, emphasizing the unique fiduciary nature of their bond. By recognizing advocates as officers of the court, the Court underscored their duty to uphold legal integrity over ensuring specific case outcomes. The decision not only safeguards advocates from undue consumer complaints but also preserves the autonomy and trust inherent in the lawyer-client relationship. While the question of advocates’ liability remains under scrutiny pending a larger bench review, this ruling sets a crucial precedent, balancing consumer rights with legal professionalism.


The debate over whether advocates should be held liable under the Consumer Protection Act underscores the complex nature of legal services and the unique professional dynamics involved. While clients deserve protection and recourse against professional negligence, the distinct fiduciary relationship between advocates and clients, along with the existing regulatory framework, suggests a need for a balanced approach. As the larger bench of the Supreme Court deliberates on this issue, the legal community and consumers alike await a ruling that will undoubtedly shape the future of legal accountability in India.

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Article Compiled by:-

~Shruti Kumari

(LegalMantra.net Team)

Disclaimer: Every effort has been made to avoid errors or omissions in this material in spite of this, errors may creep in. Any mistake, error or discrepancy noted may be brought to our notice which shall be taken care of in the next edition In no event the author shall be liable for any direct indirect, special or incidental damage resulting from or arising out of or in connection with the use of this information Many sources have been considered including Newspapers, Journals, Bare Acts, Case Materials , Charted Secretary, Research Papers etc.