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Professional Ethics in the Indian Legal System: The Role of the Advocates Act, 1961

This article explores the concept of professional ethics in the legal profession of India. It examines the role of the Advocates Act, 1961 in establishing ethical guidelines for advocates, along with the responsibilities of the Bar Council of India and State Bar Councils in regulating professional conduct. The article explores the key qualities of a good advocate, the advocate-client relationship, and the ethical considerations surrounding the Bar and Bench. It also delves into professional misconduct and contempt of court, outlining the importance of upholding the integrity and dignity of the judicial system.

Meaning Of Legal Profession:

The legal profession encompasses a range of individuals who study, develop, and apply their knowledge and legal expertise to various expertise of law. This includes lawyers, judges, legal academics, paralegals, and other legal specialists. Their primary function is to ensure the smooth functioning of the legal system and uphold justice.

Introduction To Professional Ethics:

Professional ethics are the cornerstone of the legal profession, ensuring that advocates uphold the law, maintain the dignity of the court, and serve their clients with integrity and competence. Professional ethics are a set of moral principles that guide the conduct of individuals within a profession. The framework guiding these ethical standards in India is primarily enshrined in the Advocates Act, 1961.In the legal profession; these principles ensure fairness, justice, client protection, and public trust.

The Advocates Act, 1961

The Advocates Act, 1961, provides a comprehensive structure for the regulation of legal practice in India. This act establishes the Bar Council of India (BCI) and various State Bar Councils, which are tasked with maintaining standards of professional conduct and etiquette, as well as exercising disciplinary jurisdiction over advocates. Under this act, advocates are required to adhere to a code of conduct that emphasizes integrity, dignity, and respect for the legal system.

Key Provisions of the Advocates Act, 1961

Establishment of Regulatory Bodies:

  • The Advocates Act, 1961, establishes a two-tiered structure for regulating the legal profession in India. The Bar Council of India (BCI) serves as the apex body overseeing advocates nationwide (Section 4). To manage advocates at the state level, State Bar Councils (SBCs) are established in each state and union territory (Section 3).

Enrollment and Qualifications:

  • The Act also defines who can qualify to practice law. Applicants must be Indian citizens, above 21 years old, possess a law degree, and successfully complete the Bar Council of India examination (Section 24).

Rights, Privileges, and Duties:

  • Once enrolled, advocates are granted the right to practice before any court in India, including the Supreme Court (Section 30). This section also outlines their duties towards the court, clients, and colleagues, emphasizing ethical conduct such as honesty, integrity, and maintaining client confidentiality.

Disciplinary Proceedings:

  • The Act empowers both the BCI and SBCs to initiate disciplinary proceedings against advocates for professional misconduct (Section 35). This section outlines the process for inquiries, investigations, and potential penalties, which can include suspension or removal from the profession (Section 36).

Senior Advocates:

  • The Act also recognizes advocates with exceptional merit and experience by designating them as Senior Advocates. To qualify, an advocate must have practiced for over 10 years in a High Court or the Supreme Court (Section 16). Senior advocates enjoy certain privileges, such as precedence in presenting arguments before courts.

Uniformity and Mobility:

  • The Act allows advocates to practice in any court across India, promoting a unified legal system and enabling the free movement of legal professionals.

Qualities and Skills of a Good Advocate:

  • Honesty & Integrity: An advocate must be honest and straightforward in all professional dealings i.e. clients, courts, and opposing counsel.
  • Diligence: Thorough preparation and a commitment to the client's cause are essential.
  • Courage: The ability to stand firm and argue a case fearlessly is crucial.
  • Competence: Lawyers have a duty to maintain their legal knowledge and skills to effectively represent clients.
  • Reliable: In India, advocates are also referred to as "wakeel" or "adhivakta." The term "wakeel" originates from the Arabic word "Al-Wakeel," which signifies a person who is entrusted with managing all affairs. This role encompasses being a trustee, guardian, and administrator of various matters.
  • Respect for the Court: Lawyers maintain decorum and uphold the authority of the court.
  • Analytical Thinking: The ability to analyze legal issues critically and develop sound arguments.
  • Effective Communication: Both written and oral communication skills are vital for persuasively presenting cases in court.
  • Research Proficiency: Adeptness at legal research to support arguments with precedent and statutory authority.
  • Negotiation Skills: The capability to negotiate effectively on behalf of clients.

Relationship Between Adocate And Clients:
The relationship between an advocate and their client is foundational to the legal profession, characterized by trust, confidentiality, and mutual respect. This professional relationship is governed by several key principles and ethical duties designed to ensure effective representation and the administration of justice. The Advocate Act, 1961, governs advocates' professional conduct in India.

Duties of an Advocate towards Clients
It outlines duties towards clients, including:
  • Trust and Confidence: At the core of the advocate-client relationship is trust. Clients must have confidence in their advocate's ability to competently handle their legal matters. This trust is built on the advocate's integrity, honesty, and professionalism.
  • Confidentiality: Advocates must safeguard their clients' confidential information, with exceptions outlined in law. Protecting client information is paramount.
  • Loyalty: The advocate prioritizes the client's legal interests within the bounds of the law, acting passionately on their behalf.
  • Communication: Open and honest communication is essential. The advocate keeps the client informed about the case's progress, potential outcomes, and available options.
  • Informed Consent: The client has the right to understand the legal situation and make informed decisions about their case after receiving the advocate's advice.
  • Due Care: The advocate must dedicate sufficient time and effort to understand the case and prepare a robust defense.
  • Avoiding Conflict of Interest: An advocate cannot represent clients with conflicting interests.
  • Building Trust: A strong advocate-client relationship fosters trust and allows the advocate to develop the most effective legal strategy. Effective communication, empathy, and a commitment to upholding the law are all essential for a successful partnership.

Duties of an Advocate towards Court:

  • An advocate must uphold the dignity and decorum of the court.
  • An advocate has a duty to present their case honestly and fairly.
  • An advocate must comply with all court orders and directions.
  • An advocate owes a duty to their client to provide competent legal representation.
  • Maintain a proper dress code.
  • An advocate must be mindful of actions that may constitute contempt of court.

Bar And Bench:

In the legal profession, the terms "bar" and "bench" refer to the two essential components of the judicial system. The "bar" represents the community of lawyers who are licensed to practice law, while the "bench" denotes the judiciary, including judges and magistrates. The relationship between the bar and the bench is fundamental to the administration of justice, and professional ethics play a crucial role in maintaining the integrity and effectiveness of this relationship.

The Bar:

  • Respect for the Judiciary
  • Integrity and Honesty
  • Competence and Diligence
  • Confidentiality

The Bench
The bench comprises judges who preside over court proceedings, interpret the law, and ensure justice is administered fairly and impartially. The ethical duties of the bench include:
  • Impartiality
  • Integrity and Independence
  • Courtesy and Respect
  • Competence
The Relationship Between Bar and Bench
Professional ethics governing the bar and the bench are critical to maintaining the trust, respect, and effective operation of the judicial system. The relationship between the bar and the bench is symbiotic and essential for the proper functioning of the legal system. Both must work collaboratively yet independently to ensure justice is served. Key aspects of this relationship under professional ethics include:
  • Mutual Respect
  • Communication
  • Civility
  • Upholding Justice

Bar Council Of India And State Bar Counsels
The Bar Council of India (BCI) and State Bar Councils play pivotal roles in the regulation and governance of the legal profession in India. Established under the Advocates Act, 1961, these bodies ensure the proper functioning and ethical conduct of advocates across the country.

Bar Council of India (BCI)
The BCI is the apex statutory body responsible for regulating the legal profession and legal education in India. The BCI is a democratic body with a mix of ex-officio legal dignitaries and elected representatives from various State Bar Councils, led by a Chairman and Vice-Chairman chosen by its members. The Bar Council of India (BCI) is constituted under the Advocates Act, 1961 here's a breakdown of its composition:
Elected Members:
  • One member elected by each State Bar Council from amongst its members.
  • Members from the State Bar Councils are elected for a five-year term.
Ex-Officio Members:
  • The Attorney General of India
  • The Solicitor General of India
  • The BCI elects its own Chairman and Vice-Chairman for a two-year term from among its members.
Election Process:
  • The members of the Bar Council of India are elected by the members of the State Bar Councils through a process prescribed by the BCI rules. The election process ensures representation from all states, providing a diverse and comprehensive governance structure for the legal profession in India.

Key Functions of BCI
The Advocates Act, 1961, in Section 7, outlines the primary functions of the Bar Council of India, which include
  • Lays down standards for legal education and recognizes universities offering qualifying law degrees.
  • Sets standards for professional conduct and enforces disciplinary proceedings against advocates for misconduct.
  • Promotes legal research and reforms the legal system.
  • Protects the rights, interests, and welfare of advocates.
  • The BCI prescribes standards of professional conduct and etiquette for advocates.
  • It conducts the All India Bar Examination (AIBE), which law graduates must pass to practice law in India.
  • The BCI represents the Indian bar in international legal forums and organizations.

State Bar Councils
State Bar Councils in India are statutory bodies established under the Advocates Act, 1961, with the primary responsibility of regulating the legal profession within their respective states. Each State Bar Council admits advocates to practice within its jurisdiction, maintains a roll of such advocates, and enforces standards of professional conduct and etiquette.

Key Functions of the State Bar Councils
The Advocates Act, 1961, in Section 6, outlines the primary functions of the State Bar Councils, which include:
  • Admit advocates to practice within their jurisdiction.
  • Maintain a roll of advocates practicing in the state.
  • Deal with disciplinary matters concerning advocates at the state level.
  • Organize elections for their council members.
  • Regulate the conduct of advocates within the state.
  • Discipline advocates for misconduct through disciplinary committees.
  • Implement various welfare schemes and programs for the benefit of advocates practicing in the state.

Relationship between BCI and State Bar Councils
The BCI and State Bar Councils have a hierarchical and cooperative relationship:
  • Oversight and Guidance
  • Coordination
  • Representation
  • Hierarchical Structure
  • Complementary Roles
Professional Misconduct[1]
Being an advocate is a noble and moral career choice. One could consider advocates to be among society's most privileged, responsible, and intelligent people. Because advocates have such a high status in the community. As a result, to practise their profession, professionals must adhere to certain values or standards of ethics. In short, inappropriate behaviour is referred to as "professional misconduct." An advocate might do it to satisfy his own desires or to make ends meet.

Professional misconduct is defined as any action that puts the advocate in conflict with their profession or renders them unfit to practise. Put simply, any action that prevents an advocate from practicing their profession. It is evident that the legal profession is a noble, polite, and uncontaminated one rather than a business or trade.

In the case of Allahabad Bank vs. Girish Prasad Verma,[2] the Disciplinary Committee of the Bar Council of India held that Verma's actions amounted to professional misconduct due to the deliberate suppression of material facts. Consequently, the committee decided to suspend Verma's license to practice law for a period of two years as a disciplinary measure

Professional Misconduct includes the following situations:
  • Betraying the trust of a client
  • Practising fraud through certain means
  • Deceiving the court
  • Deceiving the opposing party or their counsel
  • Improper or inappropriate behaviour
  • Behaviour that is unlawful according to law
  • Immorality
  • Carelessness in discharge of duty
  • An act forbidden by law

Contempt Of Court
A fundamental aspect of professional ethics for advocates is avoiding actions that could amount to contempt of court, which includes behavior that disrespects the court's authority or obstructs justice. The Contempt of Court Act, 1971, outlines the court's powers to punish such acts and defines contempt to uphold judicial authority and dignity. Advocates must respect and maintain dignity in court, avoiding false statements, falsified documents, or any disrespectful behavior towards the court and its officers.

Contempt of court is a legal doctrine designed to protect the authority and integrity of the judicial system. It refers to any act or omission that disrespects the court, undermines its authority, or obstructs the administration of justice.

Types of Contempt of Court
There are two main types of contempt of court: Section 2(a) of the act, defines "Contempt of Court" which includes both civil contempt and criminal contempt.

Civil Contempt
Section 2(b) of the Contempt of Court Act, 1971, defines 'Civil Contempt' as the willful disobedience of any judgment, decree, direction, order, writ, or other process of a court, or the willful breach of an undertaking given to a court. Civil contempt involves the failure to comply with court orders, decrees, or judgments. For instance, if a party does not obey a court injunction or fails to pay court-ordered child support, they may be found in civil contempt. The primary aim of civil contempt is to enforce compliance with court orders for the benefit of the opposing party.

In the case of Rama Narang Vs Ramesh Narang,[3] the Supreme Court ruled that the Respondents' act of approaching the National Company Law Tribunal did not constitute civil contempt under Section 2(b) of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971. The court found no willful breach of any court proceeding or undertaking given by the Respondents, thereby dismissing the Petitioner's contention.

Criminal Contempt
Section 2(c) of the Contempt of Court Act, 1971, defines 'Criminal Contempt' as any publication or act that undermines or lowers the authority of any court, prejudices or interferes with judicial proceedings, or obstructs the administration of justice. Criminal contempt includes actions like yelling at a judge, refusing to answer questions in court, or publishing prejudicial material. It aims to punish and deter actions that affront the dignity of the court.

In a landmark case of M.V. Jayarajan Vs. High Court of Kerala & Anr.,[4] the Kerala High Court found Jayarajan guilty of criminal contempt for scandalizing the court and undermining the judiciary's authority. He was sentenced to six months of imprisonment. In an another case of Delhi Judicial Service Association Vs. State of Gujarat,[5] The Supreme Court strongly condemned the police actions, describing the treatment of CJM Jain as an affront to judicial independence and dignity.

Key Aspects of the Contempt of Court
Contempt of court safeguards the integrity and impartiality of judicial proceedings. It encompasses actions that:
  • Disrupt court proceedings: This includes unruly behavior, outbursts, or creating a disturbance in the courtroom.
  • Disobey court orders: Wilfully failing to comply with a court directive, like a subpoena or injunction, can be considered contempt.
  • Prejudice a trial: Publishing information or making statements that could influence the jury or sway public opinion on a pending case may be contemptuous.
  • Scandalize the court: Intentionally damaging the court's reputation through insults or accusations could be considered contempt.

In conclusion, upholding professional ethics is the cornerstone of a just and functional legal system in India. By adhering to the principles enshrined in the Advocates Act and fostering a strong Bar-Bench relationship, advocates ensure public trust in the legal profession. Continuous vigilance against professional misconduct and contempt of court safeguards the integrity of the judiciary, ultimately promoting a society where justice prevails.

End Notes:
  • Kavya Sama (2024); Professional Misconduct by Advocates, Legal Services India E-Journal:
  • Judgment Summary of Allahabad Bank vs. Girish Prasad Verma (BCI Tr. Case No. 49/1993)
  • Rama Narang Vs Ramesh Narang 2009 (16) SCC 126
  • 2015 (4) SCC 81
  • Delhi Judicial Service Association Vs. State of Gujarat, 1991 AIR 2176

Award Winning Article Is Written By: Mr.Syed Mohd Osama Azam, Ll.B. Second-Year Student, Saifia Art, Commerce & Law College, Barkatullah University, Bhopal (Mp) Email: [email protected], Contact: 7000657720
Awarded certificate of Excellence
Authentication No: JL418850990939-6-0724

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