Rethinking Liability: Supreme Court Calls for Review of Doctors’ Inclusion under Consumer Protection Act

In a significant turn of legal events, the Supreme Court voiced the necessity for a reevaluation of its 1995 ruling in the Indian Medical Association v VP Shantha case, which subjected medical practitioners to the purview of the Consumer Protection Act.

Rendered by a bench comprising Justices Bela Trivedi and Pankaj Mithal, the verdict surfaced amidst deliberations over whether advocates could be held accountable under the Consumer Protection Act for service deficiencies. This issue, ripe with implications, underwent extensive scrutiny before the bench, culminating in the judgment pronounced on February 26.

Justice Trivedi articulated a pivotal stance during the pronouncement, elucidating that the essence of the Consumer Protection Act primarily aimed to shield consumers from unfair trade practices and dubious business maneuvers. She underscored a crucial point: the legislative intent never purported to encompass professions or professionals within the Act’s ambit.

“We have discerned a distinction between profession and commerce,” Justice Trivedi articulated. “A profession entails a spectrum of advanced education, specialized training, and a profound acumen honed through mental prowess, diverging significantly from the realms of conventional business or trade.”

In a resolute tone, the Court iterated that professionals, owing to the intricate nature of their craft, ought to be delineated from conventional entrepreneurs or service providers, thereby exempting them from the same regulatory framework.

The genesis of this discourse traces back to a pivotal ruling by the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission in 2007, asserting that legal services fell within the purview of the Consumer Protection Act. However, the apex court, in its recent decree, categorically nullified this premise, affirming that advocates couldn’t be held culpable under the Act for service deficiencies, given the distinctive nature of their profession.

Embracing a multipronged approach, advocates representing various stakeholders presented cogent arguments before the bench, advocating for a nuanced understanding of the legal landscape. They underscored the inherent dissimilarities between medical and legal professions, beseeching the Court to reconsider the applicability of the VP Shantha precedent in light of the prevailing circumstances.

In essence, the Court’s directive for a comprehensive review symbolizes a watershed moment, signifying a recalibration of the legal framework to accommodate the intricacies of diverse professions within the broader spectrum of consumer rights and protections.

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