Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic crisis, the bench of Hon’ble Dr. Justice DY Chandrachud and Mr. Justice Ajay Rastogi of the Indian Supreme Court in its judgement titled Council of Architects V/s. Mukesh Goyal & Ors.has held that Section 37 of the Architects Act, 1972 does not prohibit individuals not registered under the Architects Act from undertaking the practice of architecture and its cognate activities undertaken by architects, such as the design, supervision and construction of buildings.
The question before the Supreme Court was whether Section 37 of the Architects Act merely prohibits the use of the title ‘Architect’ by individuals not registered with the Council of Architecture under Chapter 3 of the enactment. In other words, whether Section 37 prohibit individuals not registered as architects under the Architects Act from practicing the profession of architecture in India?
“Architect” means a person whose name is for the time being entered in the register of architects maintained by the Council of Architecture. Section 37 of the Architects Act states that “…no person other than a registered architect, or a firm of architects shall use the title and style of architect…”. The Supreme Court held that on a plain reading of the Section, the legal prohibition created is on the use of the – title and style of Architect. ‘Title and style’ are distinct from ‘practice’. While a prohibition on the use of a ‘title’ merely restricts an individual from attaching the said title to their name in referring to or representing themselves to others, a prohibition on ‘practice’ creates a bar on the actual undertaking of specific actions. The most compelling evidence that the two concepts are materially distinct is the varied usage of the two phrases by the legislature.
For example, clause (2)(b) of Section 15 of the Indian Medical Council Act, 1956 states that “….no person other than a medical practitioner enrolled on a State Medical Register… shall practice medicine in any State”. In setting out the legal bar applicable to individuals not registered on the State Medical Register, the Indian Medical Council Act clearly uses the term practice as distinct from – hold office or – style and title.
Similarly, Section 29 of the Advocates Act, 1961 provides that “…only one class of persons entitled to practice the profession of law, namely, advocates”. In making a distinction between individuals registered under the statute and those not registered, the Advocates Act clearly stipulates that unregistered individuals cannot – practice the profession of law.
The aforesaid stands in stark contrast to the text of the Architects Act, which merely states that unregistered individuals cannot use the title and style of Architect. Therefore, a plain reading of Section 37 clearly supports the proposition that the Architects Act prohibits individuals, not registered with the Council of Architecture, from using the title and style of ‘Architect’ however, does not prohibit unregistered individuals from practicing the architecture and its cognate activities.
It was contended that one of the objects and purposes of the Architects Act is to prevent untrained individuals from designing, supervising and constructing buildings. It was also contended that registration under the Architects Act forms an essential part of the regulatory regime for architects as it ensures that architects possess adequate educational qualifications. Therefore, it was urged that Section 37 must be read in a manner, which prohibits unregistered individuals from practicing the profession of architecture and its cognate activities in order to prevent the harms arising from unqualified individuals providing critical architectural services.
These submissions were premised on the argument that even if a plain reading of Section 37 does not support the argument of a prohibition on ‘practice’, the Court must nonetheless read the provision to include a prohibition on ‘practice’ in order to avoid defeating the object and purpose of the Architects Act.
To determine whether the interpretation arrived at on a plain reading of the provision truly defeats the object of the statute as a whole, the Supreme Court delved into the legislative history of the Architects Act. A review of the Statement of Objects and Reasons makes it clear that the legislature only wanted to make it unlawful for an unregistered individual to designate himself as an ‘Architect’ but does not grant registered architects an exclusive right to undertake the design, supervision and construction of buildings. Other cognate professions or unregistered individuals may continue to carry out these activities provided that they do not refer to themselves as – Architects.
The Supreme Court further held that the profession of architecture involves a wide range of activities which are undertaken by architects in concert with a range of other professionals including draughtspersons, builders, engineers, and designers. If the legislature were to impose an absolute prohibition against unregistered individuals from ‘practicing architecture’ there would be considerable confusion as to what activities formed the practice of architecture and what did not. It may have resulted in a host of other legitimate professionals being barred from engaging in the design, supervision and construction of buildings merely because they were not registered under the Architects Act.
Architecture undoubtedly constitutes a highly specialised profession requiring the possession of minimum educational qualifications. However, Architects are by and large engaged by means of a contract for services. In other words, Architects provide a set of specialised services towards the larger goal of construction. Architects are not embarking on construction independently of other professionals. By virtue of the Architects Act, anybody engaging the services of an individual calling themselves an Architect is assured that such an individual possesses statutorily recognised educational qualifications and is competent to complete the task at hand. It is in this manner that the legislature protects a service recipient from untrained individuals.
The author is a Corporate and M&A lawyer at Sarin Partners Advocates & Legal Consultants. The views in the article should not be construed as legal advice. Please contact the author for any clarification.