20 Aug 2023 2:37 PM GMT
Deprecating the trend of filing complaints against opposing counsels to intimidate them, the Bombay High Court recently set aside disciplinary proceedings against Advocate Geeta R Shastri, former Additional Government Pleader in the Court.A division bench of Justice GS Patel and Justice Neela Gokhale held that the interest of advocates should not be compromised because of “fanciful...
Deprecating the trend of filing complaints against opposing counsels to intimidate them, the Bombay High Court recently set aside disciplinary proceedings against Advocate Geeta R Shastri, former Additional Government Pleader in the Court.
A division bench of Justice GS Patel and Justice Neela Gokhale held that the interest of advocates should not be compromised because of “fanciful notions” of a litigant, as this results in indescribable emotional and mental trauma.
“We are not merely adjudicating this or that dispute. We are equally concerned with standards at the Bar, and we are also concerned that the interest of advocates should not lightly be compromised because of some fanciful notions that a litigant may have. The consequences of such action on the lives and careers of advocates and the attendant emotional and mental trauma are almost indescribable”, the court said.
The court said that the threat of disciplinary complaints against the opposing lawyer is used in several matters to ensure that the opposing party does not get proper legal representation.
"…this unfortunately has now become a fashion in this Court, where litigants on one side routinely file complaints with the Bar Council against the advocates of the opposing party. That is a practice to be deprecated in all circumstances...This constant threat of the disciplinary complaints against the opposing counsel is actually being used in several matters that have come before us to intimidate and browbeat opposing counsel, and to ensure that the opponent does not get adequate or proper legal representation”, the court observed.
Observing so, the court set aside disciplinary proceedings for alleged professional misconduct against Shastri, an advocate in practice since 1985, who has represented the State for several years before the court. The allegations stemmed from her identification of a deponent in an affidavit. The deponent, Surekha Sabnis, was the Principal holding charge at the Ismail Yusuf Junior College, a State Government educational institution.
The complainant, Bansidhar Annaji Bhakad had filed a wrongful termination suit against the college. He sought damages of over Rs. 43 lakhs in the suit initially filed on the Original Side of the HC and then transferred to the City Civil Court on the increase of its pecuniary jurisdiction. The college filed a Chamber Summons seeking an amendment to its Written Statement. The Affidavit in Support of that Chamber Summons had annexures certified as true copies by NP Pandit, the Advocate-on-Record. However, the Chamber Summons and Affidavit were identified under Shastri’s signature.
Bhakad disputed the correctness of the annexures in the affidavit. Bhakad claimed that Shastri's identification of the deponent in the Affidavit signified her endorsement of the contents of the Affidavit and filed the complaint. An advocate member of the Bar Council of Maharashtra and Goa referred the matter to the Disciplinary Committee for an enquiry. Thus, she filed the present writ petition challenging this order.
Bhakad argued that every advocate who identifies or subscribes their signature in the capacity of an Advocate-on-Record for identification purposes should be held accountable for the accuracy of the factual statements within the Affidavit. The court rejected this argument stating, “the consequence of taking it to its logical conclusion, which to our minds, would inevitably result in the emptying of almost the entire legal profession. No Advocate-on-Record would ever sign anything, and without an Advocate-on-Record, we would not have counsel’s assistance in a single matter. On this one proposition the entire judicial system in this country would be brought to its knees.”
The Court cited Order 19 Rule 3 of the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908, which emphasizes that Affidavits should be confined to facts the deponent can personally verify. The Court noted that Shastri was not even the Advocate-on-Record, and merely identified the deponent. Such identification does not imply personal attestation to the accuracy of the deponent's statements, the court held.
The court held the order referring the case to the Disciplinary Committee was fundamentally flawed, as there was no merit at all in Bhakad’s complaint.
“The entire recommendation of the matter to the Disciplinary Committee is fundamentally flawed and based on a complete misconception of the role of the Petitioner and the duties that are cast upon her as an advocate at the Bar...Unless it is shown that there is misconduct within the frame of the statute or that there is a sufficient case made for investigation into that aspect of the matter, there is no question of pillorying every advocate just because a litigant feels aggrieved in some particular litigation”, said the court.
Thus, the court directed the Bar Council of India to pass necessary directions formally dismissing the complaint.
Case no. – Writ Petition (L) No. 7383 of 2023
Case Title – Geeta Ramanugrah Shastri v. Bar Council of Maharashtra and Goa and Ors.
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