Competition Commission dismisses case against Bar Council
The Commission believed that there existed no prima facie case under the provisions of Section 4 of the Act and the information filed was directed to be closed forthwith
The Competition Commission of India (CCI) has directed that the information filed by Thupili Raveendra Babu (Informant) under Section 19(1)(a) of the Competition Act, 2002 (Act) alleging contravention of provisions of Section 4 of the Act by Bar Council of India (BCI), through Managing Committee represented by its Chairperson Manan Kumar Mishra (BCI/OP 1) and the office bearers of the BCI (OP 2 to 5/Opposite Parties) be closed forthwith under Section 26(2) of the Act.
The judgement was delivered by Ashok Kumar Gupta (Chairperson), and two Members Sangeeta Verma and Bhagwant Singh Bishnoi on 20 January 2021.
Herein, the Informant, aged 52 years, stated that he is working as an executive engineer in Central Public Works Department (CPWD) under the Ministry of Urban Development, Government of India, and plans to voluntarily retire to pursue a legal education and he had also secured the first rank in the LLB (three years) entrance examination in the State of Andhra Pradesh.
The Informant put forth that he learnt about Clause 28 of Schedule III, Rule 11 to Part IV - Rules of Legal Education, 2008, a part of Bar Council of India Rules enacted under the Advocates Act, 1961 (Clause 28), according to which the candidates belonging to General category who have attained the age of more than 30 years, are barred from pursuing a legal education.
The informant stated that BCI had allegedly imposed maximum age restrictions upon the new entrants to enter into the legal education and thus, created indirect barriers to the new entrants in the profession of legal service. The impugned Clause 28 had been incorporated by the BCI in contravention of Section 4 of the Act by 'misusing its dominant position'.
He also alleged that the members of the BCI who are managing its affairs were misusing the BCI's dominant position in controlling the legal education in India. The Informant had prayed before the Commission to declare the impugned Clause 28 as illegal and void ab initio and impose the maximum penalty on the BCI for the violation of Section 4 of the Act and indulging in the colourable exercise of power.
The primary question which fell for consideration was whether BCI is an 'enterprise' within the meaning of Section 2(h) of the Act. The Commission noted that the term 'enterprise' has been defined under Section 2(h) of the Act, inter alia, as a person or a department of the Government, engaged in any activity relating to the provision of any kind of services.
The Commission also noted that the BCI is a statutory body established under Section 4 of the Advocates Act, 1961. Section 7 of the said Act lays down the functions of the BCI which includes promotion of legal education in India and to lay down standards of such education in consultation with the Universities in India and the State Bar Councils.
Further, Section 49 of the Advocates Act, 1961 empowers the BCI to make rules for discharging its functions under the said Act such as prescribing qualifications and disqualifications for membership of a Bar Council, minimum qualifications required for admission to a course of the degree in law in any recognised university, prescribing the standards of legal education for the universities in India, etc. Thus, it was noted that the BCI appears to carry out functions which are regulatory in nature in respect of the legal profession.
The Commission noted that when the BCI appears to be discharging its regulatory functions, it cannot be said to be an 'enterprise' within the meaning of Section 2(h) of the Act and consequently, the allegations made in relation to discharge of such functions which appears to be non-economic in nature, may not merit an examination within the provisions of Section 4 of the Act.
In view of the foregoing, the Commission was of the opinion that there existed no prima facie case under the provisions of Section 4 of the Act and the information filed was directed to be closed forthwith against the Opposite Parties under Section 26(2) of the Act. Consequently, no case for a grant for relief(s) as sought under Section 33 of the Act arose and the same was also rejected.