The Supreme Court has ruled that non-lawyers can represent, appear and argue cases filed under the Consumer Protection Act before Consumer District Forums and Commissions. Suitable rules may be framed in this regard by the National Consumer Commission to accredit non advocates to practice as representatives before a forum.
This ruling could remove doubts if any and needless delays arising out of the objections raised by opposing lawyers in such cases.
The SC passed the directive while dismissing an eight-year-old appeal filed by the Bar Council of India against a 2002 Bombay high court judgment that permitted agents to represent consumers.
The SC bench of Justice Dalveer Bhandari, Justice R Mukundakam Sharma and Justice Anil Dave on Monday, however, said special guidelines were needed and accordingly, it directed the National Consumer Commission to “frame comprehensive rules within three months” to regulate the eligibility, ethics and conduct of non-legal representatives.
Agents can be friends or relatives but they cannot accept any remuneration and must display competence.
The SC has suggested certain points that the National Consumer Commission may consider while framing rules:
1. An agent appearing on an individual case basis:
a. Must have a pre-existing relationship with the complainant (eg, as a relative, neighbour, business associate or friend)
b. Must not receive any form of direct or indirect remuneration for appearing before the forum and file a written declaration to that effect
c. Must demonstrate competency
2. Accredition may be through written examination on law; academic and professional background, criminal record
3. Fees: The forum may decide on fee amount if an agent seeks to receive any; but he cannot ask for more than 20% of damages sought by a consumer.
The decision is welcome since it provides an opportunity for victims to get represented from those who fight for a cause.