In this blog post, Sreeraj K.V., a student of Government Law College, Ernakulam, Kerala writes about professional ethics in law. This article covers the importance of professional ethics, its impact in the field of law, various duties and responsibilities of legal practitioners and concerned authorities to look into the matter as well as famous judgments regarding the same.
Professional ethics encompasses an ethical code governing the conduct of persons engaged in the practice of law as well as persons engaged in the legal sector. All members of the legal profession have a paramount duty to the court and towards the administration of justice. This duty prevail over all other duties, especially in the circumstances where there may be a conflict of duties. It is important that legal practitioners conduct themselves with integrity, provide proper assistance to the court, and promote public confidence in the legal system. In carrying out their duties, they are required and expected to deal with other members of the legal profession with courtesy and integrity. Advocates, apart from being professionals, are also officers of the court and play a vital role in the administration of justice.
Accordingly, the set of rules that govern their professional conduct arise out of the duties that they owe to the court, the client, their opponents and other advocates. Rules on the professional standards that an advocate needs to maintain are mentioned in Chapter II, Part VI of the Bar Council of India Rules. These Rules have been provided under section 49(1)(c) of the Advocates Act, 1961.
Rules on an advocate’s duty towards the Court
Act in a dignified manner
An advocate must behave in a dignified manner during the time of his case as well as while acting before the court. He should conduct himself with self-respect. Whenever there is a ground for complaint against a judicial officer, the advocate has a duty to submit his grievance to the concerned authorities.
Respect the Court
The advocate must show his respect towards the Court. He/she has to keep in mind that the dignity and respect towards the judicial officer are essential for the survival of a free community.
No communication in private
The advocate should not communicate with the judicial officer in private regarding any matter pending before the court. The advocate should not influence the decision of a court in any matter through illegal or improper acts such as coercion, bribe, etc.
Refusal to act in an illegal manner towards the opposition
An advocate should not act in an illegal manner towards the opposing counsel or opposite party. He should use his best effort to restrain his client from acting an illegal, improper manner or perform any unfair practice towards the judiciary, opposing counsel or opposing party.
Refusal to represent clients who insist on any unfair means of practice
An advocate shall refuse to represent the client who insists on using unfair or improper means. He shall be dignified in using his language in correspondence and arguments in the court. He shall not scandalously damage the reputation of the parties on false grounds during the pleadings.
Appear in proper dress code
The advocate should be present at all times in the court only in the proper dress code prescribed by the Bar Council of India Rules, and the dress code must be presentable.
Not represent the establishment of which he is a member
An advocate should not appear in the court, for or against any establishment in which he is a member. But this rule does not apply in the case of appointment as an ‘Amicus Curiae’ or without a fee on behalf of the Bar Council.
Not appear in matters with pecuniary interest
The advocate should not act on behalf of any matter in which he has a financial interest. He should not accept a brief from a company in which he is a Director.
Not stand as surety for the clients
The advocate should not stand as a surety for his client, or certify the soundness of a surety that his client requires for the purpose of any legal proceedings.
Advocate’s duties towards his client
- Bound to accept briefs.
- Not withdraw from service.
- Not appear in matters in which he is a witness.
- Full and frank disclosure to the client.
- Uphold interest of the client.
- Not suppress any material of evidence.
- Not disclose any information of his client and himself.
- Not receive any interest in actionable claim.
- Not charge depending on the success of matters..
- Keep proper accounts etc.
Advocate’s duty towards his opponent counsel
Not to negotiate directly with opposing party
The advocate should not in any way directly communicate with the opposing party regarding any matter of the case except through the advocate representing the party.
Carry out legitimate promises made
The advocate should make best of all possible legitimate promises made to his party, even though not reduced to writing under the rules of the Court.
Other duties include
- Not advertise or solicit work.
- Sign board and nameplate must be of reasonable size.
- Not promote an unauthorized practice of law.
- Obtain the consent of the fellow advocates for vakalat in the same case.
Advantages of having codified professional ethics
- Means of social control. It will keep up with the new perspectives brought to the profession according to the social requirements and expectations. The dignity of the profession will be required to be maintained in order to retain the confidence of the public in it.
- Ethical codes prevent interference of government in such matters through its agencies. If a degree of standardization is needed, it will keep Governmental interference outside.
- Ethical codes are important in developing higher standards of conduct. The code also brings about a sense of judgment towards the profession
- The existence of the code will have great educative, corrective and appreciable value for both the lawyers and the common men.
State Bar Council and its Disciplinary Committee
Section 35 of the Advocates Act deals with the provisions regarding formulation and functioning of Disciplinary Committee under the State Bar Council. Under this, if any legal practitioner is found guilty of any professional misconduct, after providing an opportunity of being heard may make any of the following orders:
- Dismiss the complaint or where the proceedings were initiated at the instance of the State Bar Council, direct that the proceedings be filed;
- Reprimand the advocate;
- Suspend the advocate for a period as it may deem fit;
- Remove the name of the advocate from the State roll of advocates.
In the case of Nortanmal Chauaisia v. M.R. Murli, the Supreme Court held that the term Misconduct had not been defined under the Advocates Act. But the term envisages a breach of discipline, although it would not be possible to lay down what would lead to misconduct or indiscipline, which is wide enough to include wrongful act or omission, whether done intentionally or unintentionally. It also means improper behaviour, intentional wrongdoing or deliberate violation of a rule of the standard of behaviour.
Professional ethics can also be stated as the duties that have to be followed by an advocate during his profession. These are moral duties and the very basic courtesy which every person in this field should know. An advocate who does not work with sincerity and does not follow the rules of conduct is said to have violated the code of ethics of this profession. The fundamental aim of legal ethics is to maintain honor and dignity of the legal profession to ensure the spirit of friendly co-operation, honorable and fair dealing of the counsel with his clients as well as to secure the responsibilities of the lawyers towards the society.
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 Retrieved on: http://www.lsc.sa.gov.au/dsh/ch02s01.php
 Retrieved on: http://www.barcouncilofindia.org/about/professional-standards/rules-on-professional-standards/
 Retrieved on: http://www.internationalseminar.org/XIII_AIS/TS%201%20(B)/19.%20Ms.%20Naina%20Jain.pdf
Nortanmal Chauaisia v. M.R. Murli 2004 AIR SCW 2894 retrieved on http://www.internationalseminar.org/XIII_AIS/TS%201%20(B)/19.%20Ms.%20Naina%20Jain.pdf