Starter Guide to Consumer Law Practice for Young Litigators
Consumer Protection Laws have been in existence from past many decades in the world. In ancient India too, there were many laws which touched this subject.
There were many legislations made by our legislators, post-independence as well as pre-independence. Some of which are as follows :
- The Drugs (Control) Act, 1950;
- The Prevention of Food Adulteration Act, 1954.
- The Essential Commodities Act, 1955.
- The Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practices Act, 1969.
They are still applicable & govern Consumer Laws in India.
But, a major change happened after the introduction of “Consumer Protection Act” in 1986.
You all have studied this Act in your LL.B. course or if you have just joined a law school then you will be studying it. Thus, in this blog-post, we won’t be dealing with the Act in its entirety. I will touch some parts in brief and will try to provide you with some other information which will be helpful to you as a lawyer.
A big misconception many people have is that they think if you want to practice Consumer Law, then you have to deal with only the Consumer Protection Act. Which is completely wrong, though this act is the backbone there are other Acts too which come into the picture. Like those Acts mentioned above which were passed before 1986, some parts of Indian Penal Code, CrPC, CPC, etc. and other laws may come too, it totally depends on the matter.
Apart from Acts, you also have to look after rules, regulations related to it. A list of such resources can be found on the website of National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC).
All these bare acts, rules & regulations are available on this site in pdf format.
You may come across a case, where you may need help from some International framework. So, you can refer to “United Nations Guidelines for Consumer Protection”, here is the link to it.
These guidelines are not directly applicable and enforceable in Indian Courts but will surely give your case a strong backing if needed. Plus, the judge & your client may also get impressed with your research.
INTRODUCTION OF CONSUMER PROTECTION ACT.
As the Consumer Protection Act, 1986 was passed, Dispute Redressal Agencies & Protection Councils were established.
The Object of Consumer Protection Councils is to promote & protect the rights of Consumers.
Consumer Dispute Redressal Agencies were formed for speedy disposal of consumer-related matters and to reduce the burden from ordinary Civil courts.
The Dispute redressal Mechanism is as follows :
A fee shall be accompanied for making complaints as specified in the table given below in the form of crossed Demand Draft drawn on a nationalized bank or through a crossed Indian Postal Order drawn in favour of the Registrar of the State Commission and payable at the respective place where the State Commission or the National Commission is situated.
|Sr. No.||Total Value of goods or services and the compensation claimed||Amount of fee payable|
|(1)||Up to one lakh rupees – For complainants who are under the Below Poverty Line holding Antyodaya Anna Yojana Cards||Nil|
|(2)||Up to one lakh rupees – For complainants other than AntyodayaAnna Yojana card holders.||Rs.100|
|(3)||Above one lakh and up to five lakh rupees||Rs.200|
|(4)||Above five lakh and up to ten lakh rupees||Rs.400|
|(5)||Above ten lakh and up to twenty lakh rupees||Rs.500|
|(6)||Above twenty lakh and up to fifty lakh rupees||Rs.2000|
|(7)||Above fifty lakh and up to one crore rupees||Rs.4000|
|(8)||Above one crore rupees||Rs.5000|
This above information related to fees is mentioned in the “Consumer Protection Rules, 1987” and not the Act.
Also, some information regarding the Procedures to be followed by the National Commission with regard to Complaints & Procedures by National & State Commissions with regard to Appeals is provided in the Consumer Protection Rules(Section 14 & 15).
Dress Code for the advocates is same as provided by the High Court but without the gown.
If you are attending a consumer matter for the first time, you may not understand the case types mentioned in the cause-list. It is explained in the Consumer Protection Regulations, 2005(Section 8).
- Nomenclature to be given to the complaints, appeals and revisions petitions.-(1 ) A complaint shall hereinafter be referred to as Consumer Complaint (C.C.) instead of O.P., e.g., C.C. No.2 of 2005.
(2) An appeal shall be referred to as F.A., Revision Petition as R.P., Execution Application as E.A, Transfer Application T.A., and Review as RA containing the number and the year of filing.
You can check Cause-list of any Forum or Commission on this website -> http://confonet.nic.in/
In addition to this, it also helps you track the current status of your case, view orders & judgments and also view the Display board. During the court working hours, Display board helps to check what serial number is going on in a particular Forum/Commission.
Similar to the cause-list one above, you may come across many doubts like :
- What are the working hours of the Forums/Commissions?
- A cause-list must follow what format & what must it contain?
- How many sets should you file along with your Complaint?
- What should you do if the Registrar points out defects in your filing?
- Can you pray for an imposition of costs if your opposite party asks for adjournment? If so then on what grounds and how much?
- How should be your arguments? Do you need to file written arguments in advance?
- Limitation periods for different types of petitions.
- The process of getting a certified copy.
- What are practice directions?
- What is Parcsha Yad-dast?
All such questions are answered in the “Consumer Protection Regulations, 2005”.
Do you know that even if you are not a lawyer, you can still appear in any Consumer Court?
For that, you must appear in the capacity of an Agent, Non-Advocate or a Representative. There are certain conditions to be eligible to become one.
You will not get any remuneration but you can claim fees for appearing for a party as an Agent/Non-Advocate/Representative. For which you shall file a written request before the Consumer Forum.
But, becoming an Agent/Non-Advocate/Representative is not a simple process. You need to get accredited to become one. For which you have to file an application before the Forum. The Registrar will scrutinize the applications and send it to a Committee of the Protection Council. Then the Committee may hold a written test to ascertain knowledge of the applicant and his ability to make legal presentations & arguments. Then it may conduct an oral Interview. After which the Committee may issue a letter of Accreditation to eligible applicants.
Everything related to the above process is stated in detail in “The Consumer Protection(Procedure for Regulation of Allowing Appearance of Agents or Representatives or Non-Advocates or Voluntary Organisations before Consumer Forum) Regulations, 2014″.
Now, you have understood that Laws are mentioned in the Act but most of the procedure to implement it are mentioned in the rules & regulations related to that subject.
All rules/regulations may not be followed in each forum exactly the same way, there may be variations according to their convenience. Make a note of it.
Don’t completely trust online sources for Formats of petitions/applications. It won’t harm you but local sources must be more helpful. My suggestion would be that, just ask the court staff or any local lawyer for formats. There are readymade formats available, some of them also in detail tabular formats. If you already have drafted a document then at least before filing check that it contains all the details as per their format.
Here is a checklist to have a look before filing, available on http://confonet.nic.in/ComplaintLodging.html
After the hearing, you may have some work like collecting summons/warrant, etc. Usually, the court staff takes a lot of time for such miscellaneous work. Some courts are really overburdened while some are not, but they just won’t do it fast even if it may take just a few minutes to do it. So, utilize that time to attend a matter in some other court or complete some other task allotted to you or you may end up waiting for hours.
For such issues, you won’t require direct court intervention at first. If you or your client wants to complain about a misleading Advertisement, you can file a complaint online to the –
Department of Consumer Affairs – https://gama.gov.in/Default.aspx or
Advertising Council of India – https://www.ascionline.org/index.php/lodge-ur-complaints.html
This will prevent unnecessary litigation & improve the relationship with your client.
CAREERS IN CONSUMER LAW
There are many lawyers throughout the country who have made their career only in Consumer Law practice.
One cannot establish a big Law firm practicing Consumer Law only, but you can surely build a successful individual practice.
If you don’t want to work as an advocate then you can work in an NGO solely focusing on consumer affairs.
If this area of work really interests you then you can also grow your career by working on a project related to consumer affairs run by International Organisations like the United Nations, International Consumer Protection and Enforcement Network (ICPEN), etc.
INSTITUTES WHICH OFFER CERTIFICATE COURSES ON CONSUMER LAW PRACTICE & PROCEDURE.
National Law School of India University, Bangalore Click here to read more about the Course
West Bengal National University of Juridical Sciences, Kolkata.
BELOW ARE SOME RESOURCES WHICH WILL BE USEFUL TO YOU FOR YOUR RESEARCH ON THIS TOPIC.
NCDRC (http://ncdrc.nic.in/) – Contains Bare Acts, List of all Forums & Commissions throughout the country along with its addresses & contact details.
Consumer helpline – https://consumerhelpline.gov.in/
Consumer law & Practice Chair by NLSIU (http://clap.nls.ac.in/) – The “Consumer Guide” section of this website contains detailed research on sub-areas of this law.
This book on Consumer Law Practice & Procedure explains the subject in a lucid language.
I have tried to cover most of the practical aspects here. If you want to share anything then please do comment it below.