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Relaxation sought in Act, so starving lawyers can solicit work, find other jobs; SC gives notice to BCI

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The Supreme Court today (July 14) issued notice to the Bar Council of India (BCI) on a plea seeking permission to use advertisements for lawyers till March 2021 so that other paralegal work can be taken up by them to earn their livelihood amid the COVID 19 pandemic.

The bench of Chief Justice SA Bobde and Justices R Subhash Reddy and AS Bopanna was hearing a petition filed by advocate Charanjeet Chanderpal, bringing to the court’s attention the plight of lawyers where the courts are having suspended functioning amid the lockdown.

The petitioner submitted that: “Advocates are dying, landing in depression, are not having money for medical expenses for their dependents etc. There are also reports of suicides and this has happened due to closure of courts and other legal activities as a result of the COVID-19 lockdown.”

Under the Advocates Act 1961, certain restrictions have been imposed on advocates practising before the courts which restricts the advocates from holding the licence to practice, if he or she engages himself in any other profession, job or business other than legal practice. Further, advocates are also restricted from advertising and soliciting work under Sections 35 and 49 of the Act along with the Rules under this Act.

Hence the petitioner has sought directions to the BCI to amend the rules thus relaxing the provisions under the Act to:

  • Issue a clarification as regards a practising lawyer’s position as a “sleeping partner” or “sleeping director” in an organization and effectively clarify Chapter III Rule 2 of the Rules so that advocates may be employed as legal advisors on a retainer basis.
  • Permit advocates to advertise through limited and specific sources to solicit chamber work like taxation or registration work.
  • Permit Advocates to take up alternative sources of livelihood and income to sustain themselves, albeit with an undertaking to be provided that the same shall not continue beyond March of 2021.

The petitioner has suggested that these steps can be taken by way of a modification of rules, or the issuance of a corrigendum, or by the temporary suspension of current rules.

The petitioner also suggested that one-time financial grants may not be fruitful in providing relief to the needy lawyers and has urged the court to find a more sustainable solution to the financial problems being faced by lawyers amid COVID 19 Pandemic.

The bench has directed BCI to file its reply within 2 weeks.

– India Legal Bureau

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