Budget Withdraws Service Tax Exemption on Legal Services

Last Updated at: Oct 30, 2020
In July, 2020, the Bombay High Court dismissed a petition seeking exemption for lawyers and legal service providers from lockdown restrictions. The petitioner sought a direction to include such services in the category of “essential services” under the Maharashtra Essential Services Maintenance Act, 2017. The Court said that it was for the State to decide if lawyers are ‘Essential Services Providers’ or not.


Service Tax is a major focus area of the Ministry of Finance. The government recently proposed a levy of 14% on this tax on services on certain conditions. Notably, the government withdraws the tax exemptions provided to lawyers and this proposal has been highly criticized by them as it is considered to go against the intention to make the country a hub for arbitration.

In Budget 2016, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has proposed to levy a 14% tax on the services of a senior advocate to an advocate or partnership firm, and a person represented on an arbitral tribunal to an arbitral tribunal. This would be levied under a forward charge. The Budget, therefore, withdraws tax exemptions given to lawyers.

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The proposal has been criticised by lawyers who believe this goes against the intention to make India a hub for arbitration, in line with Singapore and London.

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Service Tax has become a key focus area for the Ministry of Finance. Last year’s budget had the Finance Minister increase the Service Tax rate to 14% from 12.36%, which was made applicable from June 1, 2015. Thereafter, Swachh Bharat Cess of 0.5 per cent was added in Service Tax from November 15, last year. Now the limit of 14.5 per cent of Service Tax has been proposed to be increased by 0.5 per cent, in 2016-17 budget proposals, by imposing 0.5 per cent of Krishi Kalyan Cess. The new rate of 15 per cent of Service Tax is slated to come into effect from June 1, 2016.

The government is expected to raise the service tax rate to 17% to 18% over the next two to three years, by which time it will be replaced by the goods and services tax (GST).

Well, remember that the Service Tax will be modified during every year’s annual budget. Before the exemption of Service Tax, the same was increased to 14% and the Swachh Bharat Cess was also added to the same. Later, the entire concept of Service Tax was ruled and the government came up with the GST (Goods and Services Tax).