The Kerala High Court has said that a lawyer’s first responsibility is towards their clients, and then to the courts. In this context, let us look at some of the ethical and professional duties that bind your lawyer.
Which law regulates the legal profession in India?
The Advocates Act, 1961 and the Bar Council of India Rules regulate the legal profession and the law relating to legal practitioners.
Duty to accept cases
According to the Supreme Court, professional ethics require that a lawyer cannot refuse a brief if a client is willing to pay their fee, and the lawyer is not otherwise engaged. The fee will be based on their professional standing and the nature of the case.
So, an advocate must accept any case, unless there are exceptional circumstances. For example, the advocate should not accept or appear in a case for which they might appear as a witness.
An advocate should not withdraw from a case after accepting it. However, they can withdraw if there is sufficient cause (such as non-payment of fees), after giving a reasonable and sufficient notice to the client. If the advocate withdraws from a case, they have to refund any extra fees to the client.
Loyalty to the client
Advocates should uphold the interests of their clients by all fair and honorable means. They should not let their personal beliefs about a client’s guilt stop them from accepting a case. Regardless of their personal opinion about a client’s guilt or innocence, advocates should defend their clients.
Further, an advocate must make a full and frank disclosure to the client about their connection towards opposite parties and any other interest in the case. An advocate must only work as per the instruction of the client or the client’s agent.
If the advocate has advised, acted, appeared or pleaded for a client at any stage of a lawsuit, they should not act, appear or argue for the opposite party.
Complaining against professional misconduct
Any client can complain against professional misconduct by an advocate. The client can lodge the complaint with the State Bar Council with which the advocate is registered. After a person submits the complaint, the Disciplinary Committee of the State Bar Council will inquire into the matter.
The Disciplinary Committee will give an opportunity for the advocate to present their defence. The Advocate General of the State will also be present during the inquiry. After the inquiry, the Committee can:
- Reprimand the advocate.
- Suspend the advocate for the time being.
- Remove the advocate’s name from the State roll.
- Dismiss the complaint.
If a person is not satisfied with the decision of the State Bar Council, they can appeal to the Bar Council of India within sixty days of the communication of the decision. If the person is still dissatisfied with the decision of the Bar Council of India, they can approach the Supreme Court within sixty days of the communication of the decision.