India


“Law is no trade, briefs no merchandise”

27 August 2013 by

supreem-court1In Re Rameshwar Prasad Goyal, Advocate, Supreme Court of India, 22 August 2013, read judgment

For the moment, at least, the idea of Stobart-law, supermarket-law, or call-centre-law as the solution to the increasing cost of criminal justice seems to be on hold. But this broadside from the Indian Supreme Court (including my title) helpfully reminds us that the relationship between judges, advocates and their clients fits with difficulty into the bilateral model of most of the entirely commercialised world. The advocate owes a more complex set of duties to the court as well as to his or her client than are typically found in a haulage contract.

Shri Rameshwar Prasad Goyal, Advocate-on-Record or AOR in this case, is, according to Indian court statistics, a very busy man. He was acting  in 1678 cases in 2010, 1423 cases in 2011, and 1489 cases in 2012. But he has never actually appeared in court on behalf of his clients. Indeed a request from the Court in the present case for him to appear to explain himself was refused – try that in the High Court in the UK. It did not go down well in New Delhi either. The Court, having chucked out his hapless client’s application, declared that Goyal was guilty of conduct unbecoming an advocate, and told him that if he did not do better over the next year (i.e. turn up to court for his clients) he would get struck off.

The underlying facts show the dangers of allowing all of law to be run completely on business lines. Goyal had found an excellent and cost-efficient business niche. But as the Court explained

In a system, as revealed in the instant case, a half baked lawyer accepts the brief from a client coming from a far distance, prepares the petition and asks an AOR , having no liability towards the case, to lend his signatures for a petty amount. The AOR happily accepts this unholy advance and obliges the lawyer who has approached him without any further responsibility. The AOR does not know the client, has no attachment to the case and no emotional sentiments towards the poor cheated clients. Such an attitude tantamounts [sic] to cruelty in the most crude form towards the innocent litigant.

What is it about law that gives rise to this imbalance? If I go into the bread shop, and am asked £10 for my loaf, I walk out, because I know the price of bread. If I go to my lawyer about a case, which as an individual, I may do (if I am unlucky) once in my life, I have little idea of the standard of the service which I might receive. Even if it were Stobart- or Tesco- law, I might hope that they do things reasonably well, but in truth most people would not really know. Indeed most of us expect never to be arrested in our lives, so we don’t know what can be done by our lawyers if we end up there.

That said, turning up to court is normally expected of an advocate. Indeed, a little more than that, as the Court cuttingly observed

Thus, not only is his physical presence but effective assistance in the court is also required. He is not a guest artist nor is his job of a service provider nor is he in a professional business nor can he claim to be a law tourist agent for taking litigants for a tour of the court premises.

“Service provider”, now there is a phrase beloved of those designing our new criminal justice system – necessary, but not sufficient, for justice.

The Court continued by pointing out that in the present era, the legal profession, once known as a “noble profession”,

has been converted into a commercial undertaking. Litigation has become so expensive that it has gone beyond the reach and means of a poor man. For a longtime, the people of the nation have been convinced that a case would not culminate during the lifetime of the litigant and is beyond the ability of astrologer to anticipate his fate.

The  UK system still has to crack the costs of litigation, given the  conflicting difficulties of litigating properly and cost-efficiently for clients, but it is at least working on that hard, But we do seem to have sorted the time it takes to get to answer problems which we set our judges. Timing has been ruthlessly policed by our courts in recent years, so that you need a pretty good excuse for doing something late or slowly. So, unlike the gloomy picture presented by the Indian Supreme Court, most people know whether they have won or lost before they die – so astrologers are not generally necessary.

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