This article is written by Saswata Tewari from the University of Petroleum and Energy Studies Dehradun. This article talks about the fees that are being charged by lawyers and doctors and the ways on how these fees can be regulated.
In our society, professionals are more respected and honored than any basic individual of society. This is because of the rewards professionals are paid for their service, which in turn creates a gap in the income structure between the two groups of the society. Professionals include people like lawyers, doctors, etc. who fall in the category of people who possess special skills in certain fields.
Any person practicing a profession needs a certain level of knowledge and learning of that field, which impliedly assures an individual dealing with the professional that the person possesses all the necessary understanding, expertise of the field and that the professional will profess his skill with reasonable care and caution. Both society and these professionals are responsible for the over pricing fees of these professionals. We think that the more professional charges for their service, the more competent the professional must be and will be getting more world-class services from these professionals for paying such hefty fees.
Fees charged by lawyers
The legal profession is assessed to be a noble line of work where the lawyers prioritize the client’s interests over theirs and in this profession, ethics overcome the self-interest of the lawyers.
According to a report published by DAKSH, an average Indian (plaintiff) incurs an average cost of Rs. 465 per day for the court proceedings. The free legal services offered under the National Legal Services Authority Act, 1987 is not availed by many. The report said that a considerable number of litigants came from the lower-income groups but only 2.36% of all those litigants could appoint court-appointed lawyers. Even the middle and upper-income groups find it difficult to pay hefty fees to the lawyers in advance of the success of their case. Moreover, what lawyers charge their clients for legal services is largely unregulated in India. According to Supreme Court rules 2013, a lawyer should charge a maximum of Rs. 8000 per hearing, not even half of what is charged by the lawyers. Top Lawyers in the country charge around Rs. 10 to Rs. 20 lakh for an appearance in the Supreme Court.
The charge for the legal fees varies from client to client as the lawyers charge according to the paying capacity of their clients. It has been seen that lawyers charge around Rs. 3 to Rs. 6 lakh per hearing for cases in High Court and if the lawyer has to travel to other High Courts, then the fees can go up to Rs. 25 lakh. Trial Court cases are charged around Rs. 10 lakh and instances have been seen where lawyers were demanding a considerate percentage of the amount received by the client in an accident claim for their fees.
In the case of Sunitha v. State of Telangana, the Supreme Court acknowledged the issue of hefty fees being charged by the legal professionals and it was held that the advocate’s fee was based on a percentage of the result of the litigation was illegal and should not be entertained. The Supreme Court wanted a law to keep in check the escalating commercialization of the legal profession and to prescribe a limit for the legal fees to make sure that the poor sections of our society are not nudged out of the justice system.
Fees charged by doctors
There is no logical basis for the fees charged by the doctors in their capacities for rendering their medical services to the patients. This is the result of not having any particular laws for regulating the fees that are being charged by the doctors. Society is generally result-oriented and health is an important issue in our lives, we blindly rely on doctors for keeping ourselves fit and the same message is sent by the doctors that only them can provide them the best services. However, this is not at all wrong, the problem starts when doctors start misusing their power to charge unreasonable fees. Usually in India, doctor’s fees range from Rs.200 to Rs. 2000.
Doctors charging fees that are not accountable and going beyond the tariffs set by the hospital and instances have been reported where patients and their families have been held halfway through the operation to ransom back huge amounts of money. Even some doctors have been charging fees without giving the receipt. This is a fraud and generates black or unaccounted money in the country. Doctors even conspire with some of the patients to get back reimbursements from the insurance companies with the amount being altered to get back huge profits.
In the case of B. Sunitha v. the State of Telangana, the Court ordered the government to keep in check and diminish the unethical practices that are followed by the lawyers. The appellant was charged an unreasonable amount of Rs. 13,00,000 by the respondent. A case was filed against the appellant for not paying back the respondent, for which the appellant argued that she had no legally enforceable debt and the fee that was charged by the respondent was unreasonable and even illegal. Not only that, but the claim that was asked by the respondent was also against the Advocate Fee Rules and Ethics as the fees cannot be claimed on the percentage of amount awarded as compensation to the Appellant. The petition was dismissed by the High Court and it was held that the Advocates’ Fee Rules are made only for instruction and there was no stop to fees being claimed beyond what is set under the Rules. Also, the Court directed the authorities to regulate the legal fees charged by the lawyers by introducing requisite legislative changes and limiting the lawyer’s fees to make it easy for people to get access to legal services.
In the case of Deepa Bhure v. Jai Kishan, the Delhi High Court had directed the Bar Council of India to frame guidelines describing the manner of charging professional legal fees by lawyers in India. In this case, the council had received several cheques from the client as security for his professional legal fees. Apart from this, the council had presented the cheques in the bank even after his services were withdrawn by his client and after the cheques were dishonored, the counsel had filed a criminal complaint against the client for not paying over his legal fees. It was held that it was unreasonable of the counsel to take blank cheques as security for fees and encash those cheques in the bank without taking prior approval from the client.
It was observed that the standards of professional conduct and etiquette as prescribed by the Bar Council of India do not include any guidelines for charging legal fees by lawyers and there exists loopholes in the rules which can easily be used to harass the litigants as has happened in this case. It was also directed to create a resolution mechanism which should include appointing an external Ombudsman to deal with any complaints coming from litigants relating to the professional legal fees charged or unethical practices adopted by lawyers.
The Supreme Court had also favored the judgment given in the Deepa Bhure case. The apex court wanted a law to be made to keep a check on the growing commercialization of the legal profession and put a limit by prescribing floor and ceiling in legal fees charged by lawyers, to make it sure that the poor sections of the society are thrown out of the justice delivery system. Citing the 131st law commission report, the Supreme Court said that just like public hospitals for medical services, the public sector should have a role in giving legal services to those individuals who cannot afford the fees charged by lawyers. The 266th law commission report was also quoted, which talks about circumstances such as frequent strikes, intimidating the courts for getting favorable orders, scornful conduct by some of the members of the legal fraternity as causes for denial of justice. It was expected from this that the government would take notice of this issue and introduce necessary law as required for an effective resolution mechanism to keep in check violation of legal professional ethics and to make sure that legal services are accessible to everyone as access to legal services is a major part mandated under Article 39A of the Indian Constitution.
What can be done
Doctors and lawyers should inform the clients beforehand about their professional fees. This will enable the customers to know the rates in advance and they can compare the rates and decide which doctor or lawyer will serve best for their purpose.
The government can direct doctors practicing in government healthcare institutions to put in an indicative rate chart on their websites and the government can show the average reference rates and fees charged by doctors for different medical procedures on government healthcare websites so that people can have a general idea about the fees that will be charged.
Doctors can charge exorbitantly but customers should get the knowledge about these fees from beforehand and as of this matter, the government should direct the doctors to decide their fees and ask them to display these fees at the place of working so the general public can have an idea about the fees that is being charged by the doctors and this shall also help those persons who do not use the Internet such as people living in rural areas. People can easily be fooled and trapped into paying unreasonable charges for their basic right of getting proper healthcare.
Lawyers should also provide information about the fees they’re going to charge from the clients in advance. The contingency fee can be made applicable in the legal profession, with some regulations as this principle contrasting to pre-payment of lawyers can prove beneficial to the litigants in India. Contingency fee refers to the amount that shall be charged by the lawyer after the case has settled favorably. Fees on a contingency basis are often expressed as percentages or shares. Generally, the rate that is charged by the lawyers is between 5 to 10 %. This can be economically sound to those plaintiffs who cannot afford hefty financing of the tiresome legal trials. Moreover, this principle allows for rewarding the lawyers only in the situation if they win the case and so, lawyers will be ready to give his maximum if he takes up the case. The prospect of payment of the lawyer solely depends on the victory of the case. It is even argued that practicing on a contingency basis can improve the competency in the field of the legal profession, making lawyers work hard.
Lawyers and Doctors are well respected and honored in our society, They are expected to perform their duties and give us their best services but charging exorbitant fees for these services will be torture to the common people of the country. It is also assumed that doctors and lawyers will not charge fees that are less in comparison to the services they are providing but there’s needs to be a limit to the fees being charged and for that matter, they should declare their fees in advance for common people to know before they come to these professionals for their service. The government should take necessary actions to keep a check on the prices charged by these professionals and a complaint mechanism should be made to get information about such incidents. Strict actions should be taken against individuals who are misusing their line of the profession for charging hefty amounts of money from people.
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