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Supreme Court Rulings on Professional Services Under CPA

Context:

The Supreme Court ruled that lawyers, as professionals, cannot be subjected to legal proceedings for providing faulty services under the Consumer Protection Act 2019 (CPA).

  • However, the apex court dismissed similar arguments for medical professionals and decided that the judgment in Indian Medical Association vs V P Shantha (1995) should be reviewed by a larger bench for reconsideration.

Relevance:

GS II: Polity and Governance

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. What is the Consumer Protection Act (CPA)?
  2. What Did the Apex Court Rule in Indian Medical Association vs V P Shantha (1995)?
  3. What Was the Recent Case Before the SC?
  4. Reasons to Exclude Medical Professionals from CPA Regulations
  5. Why the Supreme Court Did Not Exclude Medical Professionals from CPA Coverage

What is the Consumer Protection Act (CPA)?

  • The CPA focuses on safeguarding consumer interests regarding products and services they use.
  • Initially enacted in 1986, the act was repealed and replaced with an updated version in 2019 to adapt to evolving needs.
  • Consumers dissatisfied with a product or service can lodge a deficiency complaint with the consumer commission.
  • Deficiency in service is defined as any fault, imperfection, shortcoming, or inadequacy in quality, nature, or performance that should legally be maintained.
  • The 2019 Act specifies that a service includes facilities related to banking, insurance, transportation, housing, entertainment, and more.
  • It excludes any service provided free of charge or under a personal service contract.

What Did the Apex Court Rule in Indian Medical Association vs V P Shantha (1995)?

  • In 1995, the Supreme Court ruled that doctors fall under consumer protection laws, allowing for medical negligence claims against them.
  • The court recognized that professional services often involve skilled work, requiring mental effort rather than manual labor.
  • This distinguishes these professions from others, where success may depend on factors beyond the professional’s control.

What Was the Recent Case Before the SC?

  • In 2007, the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission decided that lawyers offer a service to their clients, making them liable for deficiency in service claims.
  • This decision was later reviewed by the apex court, which issued a recent judgment.
  • The court determined that the CPA 2019 aims to shield consumers from unfair trade and unethical business practices.
  • The legislation was not meant to cover professional services.
  • It highlighted that the legal profession is unique and cannot be equated with other professions.
  • The court stated that engaging a lawyer is considered a contract of personal service, thus exempting it from consumer protection laws.

Reasons to Exclude Medical Professionals from CPA Regulations

  • A senior advocate representing the Indian Medical Association contended that medical professionals cannot be judged by fixed norms or standards, making them unsuitable for inclusion under the CPA.
  • Legal cases under the CPA are addressed by Consumer Redressal Commissions at the District, State, and National levels.
  • According to the 1986 CPA (applicable in 1995), the President of each Commission must be qualified as a judge at the District, High Court, or Supreme Court level.
  • Other members are required to have expertise in areas such as economics, law, commerce, accountancy, industry, or public administration.
  • There is no mandate for commission members to have medical knowledge, making them unfit to handle complex medical issues.
  • In 2024, another Supreme Court bench showed more empathy towards medical practitioners, arguing that these professionals should not be held to the same standards as other occupations.

Why the Supreme Court Did Not Exclude Medical Professionals from CPA Coverage

  • The court determined that doctors have specific duties to their patients, including deciding on treatment, administering treatments, and determining whether to treat a patient.
  • If a doctor fails to provide a “reasonable degree of care” and breaches these duties, they can be held liable for service deficiencies under the CPA.
  • Requiring commission members to have relevant knowledge and experience for each case would be impractical.
  • District Commissions can handle cases that might be out of the State Commissions’ purview.
  • The responsibility lies with the involved parties to present the necessary evidence and materials for commission members to make an informed decision.

-Source: Indian Express


June 2024
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