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Whether Non-advocates can represent their parties before Consumer Forum

The Indian Parliament had enacted the Consumer Protection Act, 1986. The declared objective of the statute was “to provide for better protection of the interests of consumers.” It seeks to provide a speedy and inexpensive remedy to the consumer.

The Consumer Protection Act, 1986 is one of the benevolent social legislations intended to protect the large body of consumers from exploitation. The Act has come as a panacea for consumers all over the country and is considered as one of the most important legislations enacted for the benefit of the consumers. The Consumer Protection Act, 1986 provides inexpensive and prompt remedy.

The Consumer Protection Act, 1986 is dedicated, as its preamble shows, to provide for effective protection of the rights of the consumers. According to the Statement of Objects and Reasons, it seeks to provide speedy and simple redressal to consumer disputes. The object of the Act is to render simple, inexpensive and speedy remedy to the consumers with complaints against defective goods and deficient services and for that a quasi-judicial machinery has been sought to be set up at the District, State and Central levels. The Consumer Protection Act has come to meet the long-felt necessity of protecting common man from wrongs for which the remedy under the ordinary law for various reasons has become illusory.

The Consumer Fora constituted under the Consumer Protection Act, 1986 have “trappings of a civil court” but “are not civil courts within the meaning of the provisions of the Code of Civil Procedure.”

A party before the District Consumer Forum/State Commission cannot be compelled to engage services of an advocate. Consumer Protection Act of 1986 is a special piece of legislation for the better protection of the interests of consumers. The Act has been enacted to give succour and relief to the affected or aggrieved consumers quickly with nil or small expense. The Consumer Forum created under the Act of 1986 is uninhibited by the requirement of court fee or the formal procedures of court – civil or criminal any recognized consumers Association can espouse his cause. Even the Central Government or State Governments can act on his/their behalf restrictive meaning shall not be consistent with the objectives of the Act of 1986. The right to appear, therefore, includes right to address the Court, examining, cross-examining witnesses, oral submissions etc.
The right of an advocate  to practice is not an absolute right but is subject to other provisions of the Advocates Act. Permitting the authorized agents to represent parties to the proceedings before the District Forum/State Commission cannot be said to practice law.

There are various statutes like Income Tax Act, Sales Tax Act and the Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practices Act which permit non-advocates to represent the parties before the authorities under those Acts and those non-advocates appearing before those Forums for the parties cannot be said to practice law. The Rules of 2000 framed under Act of 1986 permit authorized agents to appear for the parties and such appearance of authorized agents cannot be said to be inconsistent with Section 33 of Advocates Act.
If authorized agent appearing for the party to the proceedings misbehaves or exhibits violent behaviour or does not maintain the decency and decorum of the District Forum or State Commission or interferes with the smooth progress of the case then it is always open to such District Forum or State Commission to pass an appropriate order refusing such authorized agent the audience in a given case.

In Harishankar Rastogi v.  Girdhari Sharma and Anr.,  (1978) 2 SCC 165 the court held as under:

Advocates are entitled as of right to practise in Supreme Court (Section 30(i) of the Advocates Act, 1961). But, this privilege cannot be claimed as of right by any one else. While it is true that article 19 of the Constitution guarantees the freedom to practise any profession, it is open to the State to make a law imposing, in the interest of the general public, reasonable restrictions on the exercise of the right. The Advocates Act, by Section 29, provides for such a reasonable restriction, namely, that the only class of persons entitled to practise the profession of law shall be advocates.

A non-advocate can appear with the permission of the Court. The Court may, in an appropriate case, even after grant of permission withdraw it if the representative proves himself reprehensible. It is only a privilege granted by the Court and it depends entirely on the discretion of the court.

Many statutes, such as, Sales Tax, Income Tax and Competition Act also permit non-advocates to represent the parties before the authorities and those non-advocates cannot be said to practise law. On the same analogy those non-advocates who appear before Consumer fora also cannot be said to practise law.

The legislature has given an option to the parties before the Consumer Forums to either personally appear or be represented by an ‘authorized agent’ or by an advocate, then the court would not be justified in taking away that option or interpreting the statute differently.

The functioning, conduct and behaviour of authorized agents can always be regulated by the Consumer Forums. Advocates are entitled as of right to practise before Consumer Fora but this privilege cannot be claimed as a matter of right by anyone else.

When the legislature has permitted authorized agents to appear on behalf of the complainant, then the courts can’t compel the consumer to engage the services of an advocate.

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