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You will usually find two kinds of people in the office of the Bar Council of Maharashtra and Goa that is situated in the Bombay High Court premises. The first kind consist of lawyers submitting their verification forms, an exercise that is scheduled to be completed by January 31 next year. The second kind, and far more interesting, are clients who are far from satisfied with the legal services their counsel have provided.
Very far. And their numbers are on the rise.
In an order passed on September 7 this year, SJ Kathawalla J made some strong remarks against advocate Rajiv Bhatia, directing the bar council to take strong action against “black sheep” like Bhatia. The order came after proceedings that stretched out for nearly one year, with the court eventually issuing a non-bailable warrant against the lawyer. Amongst other things, Bhatia was accused of cheating his clients, demanding money for court fees which he would then pocket.
The September 7 order also directed the bar council to take “prompt and appropriate action” in the matter, since complaints had already been lodged against Bhatia.
However, how “prompt” this action, if any, will be is questionable. And not for want of trying. As per the bar council’s own reply to an RTI query, the council has seen more than one thousand complaints against erring advocates between 2011-14.
That is an average of more than three hundred every year.
|Year||Number of Complaints|
Table 1: No. of complaints filed with the BCMG
This reply was a result of the efforts of a litigant who had had enough.
In 2014, Jude D’Souza approached the bar council with complaints against three advocates. It was D’Souza’s claim that the advocates were guilty of, amongst other things, perjury and forgery. He claims that for the first eight or nine “hearings”, a single advocate would merely adjourn the matter.
Now as per the State Bar Council’s own rules [pdf], any disciplinary committee constituted to examine complaints against lawyers must contain three members. D’Souza later found out, through an RTI query, that this one-lawyer committee was a “scrutiny committee”. Eventually, this scrutiny committee found that there was no case made out against two of the lawyers named; only the third lawyer was referred to a disciplinary committee, and that too for a lesser offence.
In February 2016, close to two years after the complaint was filed, D’Souza received a copy of the “scrutiny” committee’s report. He once again filed queries under the RTI, only to be told that he should take the matter up with the Bar Council of India. Which he eventually did in October this year, informing the regulatory body of all that has taken place.
So far, he has received no response.
The only good, if one can call it that, is the fact that his RTI queries unearthed the number of complaints that are filed each year against advocates in Maharashtra and Goa.
This problem is compounded by the fact that the state bar council has not held elections since December last year. In effect, the council has been without office bearers for close to one year, and currently functions with a “special committee”.
And with the Supreme Court granting (another) extension, elections will only be held after that. Unless of course, the Bombay High Court does a DHCBA.
Sources in the council office say that without any office bearers, the number of complaints are simply piling up. In addition, allegations such as payment of fees are extremely difficult to prove. Often times a “compromise” is reached, with the litigant receiving some of the fees she paid.
In most cases though, the matter simply stretches on, with only the most determined, and fortunate, litigant seeing it to the very end.