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[COVID-19 crisis] Advocates dying due to closure of Courts: Plea in SC seeks permission for lawyers to advertise, be employed on retainers

The plea urges the Supreme Court to direct the BCI to relax rules of professional conduct so that Advocates can be employed at companies on monthly retainers, so that they may earn a livelihood through other sources etc.

Shruti Mahajan

A petition has been filed in the Supreme Court urging it to direct the Bar Council of India (BCI) to allow lawyers to use advertisements to garner work and to take up other sources of income to earn their livelihood during this time when the Courts are largely closed and work is difficult to come by, given the COVID-19 pandemic situation.

The petition filed by Advocate Chanderjeet Chanderpal says that the closure of courts across the country due to the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in many lawyers losing their source of income, owing to which many advocates have faced dire situations.

"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 COVID-19 lockdown."
the petition reads.

The Advocates Act of 1961 imposes certain restrictions on Advocates practising before the courts when it comes to taking up other sources of employment or other professions. Further, advocates are also restricted from advertising and soliciting work. These restrictions are provided for under Sections 35 and 49 of the Act along with the Rules under this Act.

However, in view of the precarious situation that many advocates are in due to the unprecedented situation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the petitioner has now urged for some relaxations on these rules for Advocates during this time.

The petitioner has sought a direction to the BCI to amend the Rules 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.

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 plea says.

This alteration is particularly important considering the needs of the advocates coming from lower and middle-income groups, the petition underscores.

The petitioner also raises concern over the mental pressure on advocates on account of not drawing an income for sustenance. In this regard, the petition cites the tragic incident of a 35-year-old lawyer taking his own life, and speaks of other lawyers who are unable to sustain themselves or provide medical facilities for their families.

The petitioner adds that a one-time financial grants and similar schemes may not be fruitful in alleviating the plight of many lawyers who are financially strained. A more permanent solution needs to be in place, it is suggested.

The plea has been drawn by the petitioner himself and is filed through Advocate Anil Kumar.

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