CCI Regulations Barring Parties From Interacting With Lawyers During DG Probe Stayed By Madras HC

CCI Regulations Barring Parties From Interacting With Lawyers During DG Probe Stayed By Madras HC

The Madras High Court has stayed the rules notified by the Competition Commission of India barring advocates from interacting with persons summoned by it during hearings and providing for debar of counsels from future appearances.

A bench comprising Justices N Kirubakaran and R Pongiappan passed the interim order on January 4, on a petition by the Tamil Nadu Advocates Association challenging the validity of the rules notified on December 6 last.

According to the rules, an advocate can accompany any person summoned by the Commission director-general provided they submit a written request accompanied by a 'vakalatnama' or power of attorney. However, they should not sit in front of the person being questioned.

Senior counsel S Prabakaran, appearing for the petitioner, contended that the rules were unconstitutional and arbitrary and the Competition Commission of India (CCI) had no powers to bring such amendments as it was not chaired by a judicial member.

It was an attempt to usurp the functions of the Bar Council of India which is the only authority to take disciplinary action against advocates, he claimed.

The condition that the accompanying advocate shall not be at a hearing distance and not interact, consult or communicate with the person during the examination was against all norms or decency, Prabhakaran said.

The Commission had abused its authority and trust by treating advocates like slaves, he submitted.

It was on December 6 that the CCI amended its regulations to allow advocates to accompany parties summoned during an investigation by the Director General (DG). The Competition Commission of India (General) Amendment Regulations, 2018 insert Section 46A to the 2009 Regulations, introducing the change. The new provision, however, clarifies that the advocate shall be allowed to accompany the person only when a request in writing, accompanied by a Vakalatnama or Power of Attorney, is duly submitted to the DG, prior to the commencement of the proceedings. Further, an advocate can neither sit in front of the person so summoned, nor be at a hearing distance of such person. He is also barred from interacting, consulting, conferring or in any manner communicating with the person, during his examination on oath.

In May 2018, the Delhi High Court had held that parties summoned by DG under Competition Act has right to be accompanied by lawyers, but cannot consult or interact with lawyers during interrogation.

(With PTI Inputs)