Kerala High Court: N.Nagaresh, J., pronounced a landmark judgment regarding right to practice of Chartered Accountants. The Bench held,
“The decision of ICAI not to recognize and record the retirement of the petitioner from ‘M/s. R. Kumar and Associates’ will therefore cause unnecessary and unwarranted hindrance to the professional advancement of the petitioner. It will offend the fundamental right of the petitioner to practice a profession freely, guaranteed to him under Article 19(1)(g) of the Constitution of India.”
The petitioner, a registered Chartered Accountant was aggrieved by the refusal of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India (ICAI) to register his sole proprietorship on its website. The grievance of the petitioner was that he was the only working partner of ‘R Menon & Associates’ which was a partnership at will, though the petitioner had sent an application to ICAI to record the dissolution of the firm and to delete his name from the records pertaining to the said firm in all capacities, it had not been recorded due to want of confirmation from other Partners, namely respondent 2 and respondent 3.
Additionally, the petitioner had proposed to register “Joshi John & Co.” as a sole proprietorship. Though with the interference of the Court, the petitioner was allowed to submit Form-18 for the registration of new firm, since the name of the dissolved Firm still exists in the records of ICAI, he was denied the right to apply for Multi Purpose Empanelment to obtain audit assignments of Banks and Public Sector Undertakings.
Stand Taken by ICAI
ICAI asserted that that when an activity of dissolution of a Partnership Firm is pending, another activity of registration of a Proprietary Firm cannot be initiated. ICAI further submitted that in view of Section 27(1) of the Chartered Accountants Act, 1949, where a Chartered Accountant in practice or a Firm, has more than one office in India, each one of such offices shall be in the separate charge of a member of the Institute of Section 27(1) of the Act and of the Regulation 187(1), the petitioner cannot register his sole proprietorship in the self-service portal at a different address unless he is relieved as in-charge of the Head Office of the Firm.
To reject the petitioner’s request for dissolution of firm ICAI relied on 165th meeting of the Institute held during 24th – 26th November, 1993, wherein it had been laid down that:
“In case of intimation of existence of dispute between/among partners received from the firm/other partners a suitable note would be kept in the records of the Institute and retirement will not be noted; and
The fact that there was dispute among the partners of a firm would also be intimated to the C.&A.G./RBI while furnishing the particulars of the firm for empanelment of bank/C.&A.G. audit.”
Findings of the Court
The issue before the Court was when a partnership firm of Chartered Accountants is dissolved or when one of the partners retires, can the Council refuse to recognize the dissolution or retirement, in the absence of unanimous approval thereof by all existing partners? The Bench stated that the actions of ICAI were such that the petitioner would either have to wait till the other partners agree either to the dissolution of the Firm or to the retirement of the petitioner from the Firm, in order to come out of the earlier partnership.
Whether consent of other partners required for dissolution of a Partnership at will?
The Bench observed that the Scheme and provisions of the CA Act, 1949 is not intended to register the partnerships of CAs or regulate inter se relations or disputes between partners. The Regulation 190 of CAs Regulations, 1993 is intended only to regulate the Trade name or Firm name of Chartered Accountants. Hence, registration and regulation of a partnership Firm of CAs would be governed by the Indian Partnership Act, 1932. It was not disputed that ‘M/s. R. Menon and Associates’ was a partnership at will. The Court expressed,
“Section 43 of the Partnership Act, 1932 provides that when a partnership is ‘at will’, the firm may be dissolved by any partner giving notice in writing to all the other partners of his intention to dissolve the firm. The Firm is dissolved as from the date mentioned in the notice and if no date is so mentioned, as from the date of communication of the notice.”
According to the dissolution notice sent by the petitioner the date of dissolution mentioned therein was 20.12.2019. Therefore, as per Section 43 of the Partnership Act, the Firm ‘M/s. R. Menon and Associates’ should ordinarily be treated as dissolved from that date. Similarly, section 32(1)(c) of the Partnership Act, 1932 provides that a partner may retire, where the partnership is at will, by giving notice in writing to all other partners of his intention to retire. The petitioner had given notice of his retirement to respondents 2 and 3, thus, the petitioner stands retired from the partnership namely ‘R. Menon and Associates’.
Hence, ICAI could not deny to recognize such retirement. The forcible continuance of the petitioner, as a partner of a Firm which was loaded with partnership disputes, has civil consequences also on the petitioner. As per the general decisions taken by the Council, the Council had to communicate the existence of disputes among partners to C & A.G. and RBI, while furnishing the particulars of a Firm for empanelment of Bank/C&AG audits. Such recording and communication will affect the chances of the petitioner to get audit assignments. Therefore, the decision of ICAI not to recognize and record the retirement of the petitioner from ‘M/s. R. Kumar and Associates’ will cause unnecessary and unwarranted hindrance to the professional advancement of the petitioner and will offend the fundamental right of the petitioner to practice a profession freely, guaranteed to him under Article 19(1)(g) of the Constitution. The petitioner was therefore held entitled to reliefs; ICAI was directed to recognize the retirement of the petitioner from the Firm ‘M/s. R. Kumar and Associates’.
[Joshi John v. Institute of Chartered Accountants, 2021 SCC OnLine Ker 1876 , decided on 26-04-2021]
Kamini Sharma, Editorial Assistant has put this report together
Appearance before the Court by:
Counsel for the Petitioner: V.M.Krishnakumar
Counsel for the Respondents: M.Gopikrishnan Nambiar, K.John Mathai, Joson Manavalan, Kuryan Thomas, Paulose C. Abraham, Ann Maria Francis, B.S.Suraj Krishna and Febin Raj T.S.