Mumbai: A district court ruled that a lawyer citing a fee conditional on the success of the trial amounted to professional misconduct. The magistrate cited a Bombay High Court judgment which said: “Fees contingent on the success of a case and which give the lawyer an interest in the matter tend to undermine the status of the profession. The same has always been condemned as unworthy of (the) legal profession. If a lawyer has an interest in the success of a litigation, he or she may have a tendency to deviate from ethics.
The check for Rs 3 lakh issued by the client, Sandip Gomane, brother of a murder accused, was rejected and the lawyer sought redress under the Negotiable Instruments Act. The district court, however, acquitted Sandip.
The district court said there was no enforceable debt. “The issuance of the check by the accused to the plaintiff in this case, as a case fee, depending on its success, cannot be considered to be issued for a court debt collection,” said the metropolitan magistrate. The court added that it cannot be inferred that the accused legally owed an amount.
The lawyer, Milind Rawal (39), had told the family of the accused that he would charge Rs 3 lakh if the case ended in an acquittal. While the lawyer initially asked for Rs 5 lakh, after negotiations he was ready to accept Rs 3 lakh. In 2016, client Ramachandra Gomane was acquitted.
In August 2017, when Rawal deposited the check handed over by Ramchandra’s brother, Sandip, it was refused due to insufficient funds. When Sandip did not respond to Rawal’s legal warning, the lawyer filed the lawsuit against him in October 2017. Rawal also produced a promissory note which was executed by the Gomane brothers before the judgment in l murder case be pronounced. Sandip claimed the check was taken under the influence. He also stated that he owed the lawyer only Rs 1.09 lakh as he had already paid him Rs 1.91 lakh from time to time and had even done painting work at his home for Rs 67,000.
The court said, however, that section 138 of the law, which deals with penalties for overdue checks, is not being retained. The court said that the legal profession is a major component of the justice delivery system and that a lawyer plays an important role in maintaining the rule of law.
“A lawyer is expected to play a vital role in access to justice. The Honorable Apex Court has from time to time (sic) also expressed in the past its concern over declining professional standards in the legal profession, ”the court noted. The court further ruled that the check was taken out of abuse of position and the transaction was void under contract law. The court said that since Sandip, as a client, was in a fiduciary relationship with Rawal, the onus was on the lawyer to prove that the fees were reasonable and that he had been voluntarily agreed to be paid.