New Delhi: In a noteworthy decision, the Supreme Court on Thursday (January 25) stayed the Bar Council of India’s order suspending a lawyer’s license for six months over a vague complaint against her brother, another lawyer. While the court upheld the dismissal of the complaint, it deemed the Bar Council’s cost penalty of Rs. 50,000 “drastic” and put it on hold.
The case involved a sibling dispute between two lawyers, a sister and brother. The sister, the complainant, alleged her brother harassed her through derogatory emails. She filed a professional misconduct complaint against him under the Advocates Act, 1961, and Bar Council of India rules.
The Bar Council’s Disciplinary Committee dismissed the complaint as vague and unmaintainable, but also imposed the hefty cost penalty, threatening license suspension if unpaid. This triggered the appeal to the Supreme Court.
A bench of Justices Abhay S Oka and Ujjal Bhuyan upheld the dismissal of the complaint, finding no reason to interfere. However, they strongly criticized the cost penalty and license suspension threat.
“The Disciplinary Committee has imposed cost of Rs. 50,000/- on the appellant while dismissing the complaint and passed very drastic order that if the cost amount is not paid, the license of the appellant will be suspended,” the court noted. “We stay that part of the impugned order by which cost has been imposed and consequences of non-deposit of cost has been provided.”
The court’s decision underscores its commitment to protecting lawyers’ livelihoods while upholding professional ethics. The Bar Council’s cost penalty, deemed “drastic” and potentially silencing legitimate complaints, was met with strong disapproval.
The case is now adjourned to March 15, 2024, with the Bar Council of India added as a party respondent. It remains to be seen whether the cost penalty will be permanently revoked or if the Bar Council will revise its approach to such situations.
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