The Delhi High court Bar Association (DHCBA) has moved that High Court challenging the classification of law offices as “commercial activity” for the purposes of calculation of property tax under Delhi Municipal Act. “A professional activity like an advocate is not a business and cannot be deemed as a commercial activity and as such, the non- residential rates would not apply in the case of an advocate using premises for an office,” DHCBA has asserted that the classification of law offices as the commercial establishment is unintelligible and falls foul of Article 14 of the Constitution of India. Asserting that the offices of lawyers should be treated under the category “for residential purpose and public purpose”, DHCBA has asserted that the classification of law offices as the commercial establishment is unintelligible and falls foul of Article 14 of the Constitution of India.

Lawyers appear before the Hon’ble Court to represent their clients but in effect assist the Hon’ble court to dispense justice, and this cannot be a business or any commercial activity. It is also pleaded that while treating law offices as commercial units, the Assessing Authorities have also ignored the law laid by the Supreme Court regarding the profession of advocates not being a “commercial enterprise, industrial, mercantile, shop or business venture”. Professional activities of lawyers are done purely on the strength of their knowledge and skills. Even those who have separate offices have to carry briefs home for reading and necessary preparations for the next day’s hearing. It has been stated that the Bar Council of Delhi sent a representation to the municipal  corporations on July 21 for reduction of the ‘use factor’ 4to 1 for levy of property tax in respect of offices of advocates in Delhi. ‘Use factor’4 is for business buildings which attracts the highest tax.  The Petition also submitted that if the law offices were treated as commercial units, the Assessing Authorities would also ignore the Supreme Court’s rule of the profession of advocates not being a “commercial enterprise, industrial, mercantile, shop or business venture. “Hon’ble Justice Najmi Waziri presided over the petition. Citing recent developments that indicate immense mental and economic pressure on lawyers owing to the continued suspension of physical trials and limitations on proceedings only by video conferencing on urgent matters, the letter argues that the suspension of physical proceedings cannot continue at the expense of the livelihood of the vast majority of lawyers.

In light of this, the Bar Association is hoping to give way to a ‘hybrid system’ in compliance with the un- lockdown guidelines. Subsequently, the letter notes that the restriction of the proceedings of the Court and the judicial system to video conferencing only comes with its ‘inherent limitations’ which have led to a backlog of pending cases and that many sub-judice have been in a state of suspension for 4 months now, thus slowing the efficiency of the system of dispensation of justice. As an interim relief, the plea sought to stay the operation of November 2018 notice issued by the authorities for self assessment property tax return of the lawyers office. The plea has arrayed the three municipal corporations as parties

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