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Supreme Court issues notice to BCI in plea seeking permission for lawyers to advertise, be employed on retainer basis during COVID-19

While doing so, the Court remarked that the issue concerning suicides, whether by farmers or lawyers, will be treated equally.

Shruti Mahajan

The Supreme Court today issued notice to the Bar Council of India (BCI) in a petition seeking permission for lawyers to use advertisements to garner work and to have other sources of income to earn their livelihood during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Bench of Chief Justice of India SA Bobde with Justices R Subhash Reddy and AS Bopanna issued notice to the BCI and fixed the next date for the hearing after two weeks.

While doing so, the Court remarked that the issue concerning suicides, whether by farmers or lawyers, will be treated equally.

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 sources of income, owing to which many advocates have taken their own lives.

"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."
Petition filed in Supreme Court

The Advocates Act of 1961 imposes certain restrictions on lawyers 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, read 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 during these difficult times.

The petitioner has sought directions 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 the 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 grant 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.

Read Order:

Chanderjeet Chanderpal vs BCI - 14.07.2020.pdf
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