Emperor vs Babus Rajani Kanta Bose And Anr., (06 February 1922)
Calcutta High Court
(Equivalent Citation ILR 49 CAL. 804)
Bench: L Sanderson, J Woodroffe, A Mookerjee
The practice of law is not an open business that everyone can do. It is a very noble profession carried out by a person of high quality and character. It is the honor given by the state on merit and there are various responsibilities on the practitioners to maintain its dignity.
The present case is a landmark one that states that the pleaders are duty-bound to fulfill their unconditional responsibility toward the courts in the administration of justice. Further, they have a duty to protect the interest of their client in every possible manner. Any misconduct on their part led to the disruption of the entire justice delivery mechanism.
Facts of the case
In 1921, the non-cooperation movement was at its full force. In the month of May, a very outrageous incident took place with the coolies working in tea gardens at Chandpur. The people of that area started protesting for their rights and a hartal was declared in that area. On 22nd May 1921, a meeting was held in the town and a resolution was passed which states that the pleaders and Mukhtars will not attend the court from 23rd May to 3rd June 1921 to paralyze the administration of justice as a sign of boycott.
Subsequently, a meeting of pleaders occurred at the bar library which also opined that they should obey the public will and refrain themselves from appearing before the court in the said period. No pleaders except the government officers came to the court. Due to this hartal by the pleaders, many clients suffered a heavy loss and 3 appeals were filed before the Calcutta High court against their conduct. The brief of them are as follows –
Reference No. 7 of 1921.
The 2 Pleaders of that Court namely Rajani Kanta Nag and Pro Nath Roy Chaudhuri were asked to appear before the court on 25th May 1921 but they did not appear.
Reference No. 8 of 1921.
(2). In this suit, the Pleader Annada Charan Roy and another Pleader, A.M. Bose accepted a vakalatnama from their client. The date of hearing was 2nd june, 1921. However, on account of the hartal, the Pleaders declined to appear before the court.
Reference No. 9 of 1921.
The pleader S.K Nag was representing his illiterate client in a suit to set aside a sale. The date of hearing was 28th May 1921. The pleader refused to appear on that particular date due to hartal.
All these appeals were clubbed together and the 3 judge bench was framed to adjudicate the common issues involved in these appeals.
Legal Issues involved
- Whether the pleaders were liable for gross improper conduct and negligible conduct mentioned under section 13(b) and 13(f) of the Legal Practitioner Act, 1879 ??
- Whether the acceptance of Vakalatnama made it mandatory for the leaders to come and appear before the court ??
- Whether non-payment of a fee to a lawyer allows him to throw away his legal duty to appear before the court on a particular day ??
Arguments from the Pleaders
- The leaders argued that they considered it safe and desirable to follow the will of the public. Further, they added that, if they disobeyed the resolution of hartal, then they had to face a lot of humiliation from the villagers.
- The pleaders submitted that the vakalatnama was no more than authority for the Pleader to act and thus they can’t be held liable.
- The pleaders also argued that their clients neither pay him the fee for the day nor asking him for legal advice. Thus, the pleader is not bound to appear before the court.
Judgment of the Court
The court stated that the pleader has a legal duty toward the court and the client. He can only be exempted from this duty only on 2 grounds namely-
1). There is a genuine fear of physical injury surrounding him.
2). He makes every possible attempt to fulfill his duty.
The facts of the case clearly show that there was no such real risk of physical or substantial injury to them. The refusal to attend the court was due to the sympathy with the objects of the hartal and not to fear of the consequences of disobeying it
There is no evidence that he made any attempt to attend the Court, though he was able to go to the Bar Library which is adjacent to the court. Further, the Pleader was bound to give the client reasonable notice so as to afford the client an opportunity of obtaining other legal assistance. He failed to do so.
The common object of the Hartal was to boycott the Courts and disturb the justice delivery system. The Pleader in this case deliberately refrains from performing his professional duty. Thus, the Pleader failed in his duty both to his client and to the Court and he was guilty of grossly improper conduct in the discharge of his professional duty within Clause (b) of Section 13 and conduct of negligence under section 13(f) of the Act.
The acceptance of vakalatnama is unconditional in nature. The Pleader after accepting the vakalatnama is ordinarily bound to appear and conduct his case, till there is no agreement to the contrary. If he failed to do so, due to any inevitable reasons, then he is bound to give legal notice to his client or make any other suitable arrangements.
The court explicitly said that the Vakil is bound to appear and conduct his case, even if the fee or any portion thereof remains unpaid. A legal practitioner may, both as a matter of right and of professional capacity, insist upon the payment of his fee before he reads his brief. The refusal to appear after accepting the brief is not justifiable on the ground of non-payment of fee.
After due consideration, the court, at last, decided that they will not take disciplinary action against the pleaders this time as it was the first instance. However, the court in strict words said that this should serve as a warning, and if the same instance is repeated in the future, then severe action can be taken against them.
Analysis of the Case
The law is the profession of meritorious people. When one becomes a legal practitioner, he becomes an officer in a judicial system in which his position, rights, and duties are determined. The leader in his professional capacity has 2 core duties namely duty toward the court and duties toward his client. These duties are much ahead in comparison to his other commitments. He is bound to follow them in every circumstance.
Duty toward the court
The pleader has a duty of good faith and honorable dealing that cooperates with the Court in the orderly and pure administration of justice. He is bound to discharge his duties and answerable to the disciplinary jurisdiction of the Court in case of non-performance of his duty.
In the present case, if we assume that the pleaders have sympathy with the coolies, but it no way allowed to override their duty towards the Court. If they have any grievance, then they must seek the remedy from the appropriate judicial authority to get justice for the aggrieved coolies. By taking part in Hartal and paralyzing the justice delivery system was not a reasonable solution.
Further, when a lawyer accepts a vakalatnama, he is bound to present the interest of his client. If he wants to avoid it, then he must provide a notice to his client as well as the court as per his code of conduct.
Duty toward the Client
The relation between Pleader and client has been described as principal and agent and by others as master and servant. This is a relation of utmost respect and trust which can’t be breached except by explicit consent.
The pleader has a duty toward his client. In this present case, the pleader himself knowing that his client is illiterate still hasn’t reached the court. He also doesn’t try to make alternative arrangements to secure his interest. The interest of his client was seriously prejudiced due to this. Thus, we can say that he failed to fulfill his legal duty.
This case was one of the first and landmark cases that dealt with the duty of legal practitioners. The law emerging from this case was codified in 1962 when the “Rules on Professional standard for advocates” was drafted. Rule 12 states that the lawyer shall not withdraw from his commitment without giving due legal notice. Further rule 15 provides an obligation on him to protect the interest of clients in every possible manner. Lastly, these rules also state that the lawyer should respect the court and maintain its honor and dignity.