Criminal Complaints by Power of Attorney - SC settles the Law

Criminal Complaints by Power of Attorney   - SC settles the Law

Whether a Power of Attorney holder can sign and file a complaint petition on behalf of the complainant ?.  A three judge bench of the Supreme Court headed by Chief Justice P.Sathasivam has answered the question in the affirmative.

The court had to consider the issue with a composition of three judges for an authoritative pronouncement as the views expressed by two judge benches and various High Courts were giving enough room interpreting either way. Out of many cases, the court considered A.C. Narayanan vs. State of Maharashtra & Anr. as a lead case and delved into resolving the issue .

 It was argued before the court that the  verification  affidavit  made  by  the  constituted attorney is not on the basis of  the personal knowledge and hence,  it  would squarely fall within the ambit of hearsay evidence and  cannot  be  read  in  evidence in a court of law and raised various other  contentions touching upon the competency of the Power of Attorney Holder to institute criminal cases.

But the Court held that “From a conjoint reading of Sections 138, 142 and 145 of the N.I.  Act as well as Section 200 of the Code, it is clear  that  it  is  open  to  the Magistrate to issue process on the basis of the contents of  the  complaint, documents in support thereof and the affidavit submitted by the  complainant in support of the complaint.  Once the complainant  files  an  affidavit  in support of the complaint before issuance of the process  under  Section  200 of the Code, it is thereafter open to the Magistrate, if he thinks  fit,  to call upon the complainant to remain present and to examine  him  as  to  the facts contained in the affidavit submitted by the complainant in support  of his complaint.  However, it is a matter of discretion and the Magistrate  is not bound to call upon the complainant to remain present  before  the  Court and to examine him upon oath for taking decision whether  or  not  to  issue process on the complaint under  Section  138  of  the  N.I.  Act.   For the purpose of issuing process under Section 200 of the Code, it is open to the Magistrate to rely upon the verification in the form of affidavit  filed  by the complainant in support of the complaint under Section 138  of  the  N.I. Act. It  is  only  if  and  where  the  Magistrate,  after  considering  the complaint under Section 138 of the N.I. Act, documents produced  in  support thereof and the verification in the form of affidavit  of  the  complainant, is of the view that examination of the  complainant  or  his  witness(s)  is required, the Magistrate may call upon the  complainant  to  remain  present before the Court and examine the complainant and/or his  witness  upon  oath for taking a decision whether or not  to  issue  process  on  the  complaint under Section 138 of the N.I. Act”

While holding the view that the  power  of  attorney holder can be allowed to file, appear and depose  for  the  purpose of issue of process for the offence punishable  under  Section  138  of  the N.I. Act, the court has laid down specific guidelines to be followed in such cases.

The Court thus settled law in the following words:-

“(i)   Filing of complaint petition under Section 138 of N.I Act through power of attorney is perfectly legal and competent.

(ii)  The Power of Attorney holder can depose and verify on oath before the Court in order to prove the contents of the complaint.  However, the power of attorney holder must have witnessed the transaction as an agent of the Payee/holder in due course or possess  due  knowledge  regarding  the  said transactions.

(iii) It is required by the complainant to make  specific  assertion  as  to the knowledge of the power  of  attorney  holder  in  the  said  transaction explicitly in the complaint and the power of  attorney  holder  who  has  no knowledge regarding the transactions cannot be examined as a witness in  the case.

(iv)  In the light of section 145 of N.I Act, it is open to the Magistrate to rely upon the  verification  in  the  form  of  affidavit  filed  by  the complainant in support of the complaint under Section 138  of  the  N.I  Act and  the  Magistrate  is  neither  mandatorily  obliged  to  call  upon  the complainant  to  remain  present  before  the  Court,  nor  to  examine  the complainant of his witness upon oath for taking the decision whether or  not to issue process on the complaint under Section 138 of the N.I. Act.

(v)   The functions under the general power of attorney cannot be delegated to another person without specific clause permitting the same in the power of attorney. Nevertheless, the general power of attorney itself can be cancelled and be given to another person “

If the lawyers fail to follow the above while drafting and instituting criminal complaints, a large number of complaints are likely to be dismissed at the threshold.