OP. ED.

Rule 13 of Chapter II of Part VI of the Bar Council of India Rules under the Advocates Act, 1961 specifically state that:

  1. An advocate should not accept a brief or appear in a case in which he has reason to believe that he will be a witness, and if being engaged in a case, it becomes apparent that he is a witness on a material question of fact, he should not continue to appear as an advocate if he can retire without jeopardising his client’s interests.

Section 120 of the Evidence Act, 1872 only deals with who may testify as a witness and does not lay down any restriction or restraint on the advocate to be a witness in the case where he is acting as an advocate. A counsel for a party should not be his witness in the same case without retiring from the case as counsel. It is a sound principle that a person who is appearing as counsel should not give evidence as witness.

If, however, in the course of proceedings it is discovered that the advocate is in a position to give evidence and it is desirable that he should do so, his proper course is to retire from the case in his professional capacity. Failure to do the same would amount to professional misconduct under Section 35 of the Advocates Act, 1961. However, if the advocate knew or had reason to believe since the very beginning that he will be an important witness in the case, he has a choice either to appear as a witness or to appear as an advocate. Once he exercises the said choice and chooses to be an advocate in the case, then he cannot be examined as a witness on behalf of the opposite side by retiring from the suit at a subsequent stage.

It is against the etiquette of the Bar that a member of the profession should give evidence in the case in which he is engaged as counsel and no self-respecting counsel would be prepared to conduct a case for the defence after having been called as a witness for the prosecution. However, a practitioner, who is acting on behalf of one of the parties and conducting litigation for him is debarred under Section 126 of the Evidence Act, 1872 to disclose the communications made to him without the express consent of his client.

If, however, a court comes to the conclusion that a trial will be embarrassed by the appearance of an advocate who has been called as witness by the other side, and if, notwithstanding the court’s expression of its opinion, the advocate refuses to withdraw, in such a case, the court has inherent jurisdiction to require the advocate to withdraw. Nevertheless, a counsel is not incompetent to give evidence whether the facts to which he testifies occurred before or after his retainer. It should be noted that merely because the name of an advocate appears in the list of witnesses of opposite party, his vakalatnama does not automatically get relinquished.

However, recently in Kokkanda B. Poondacha v. K.D. Ganapathi[1] the Supreme Court has held that one of the parties in a suit cannot cite the advocate representing the other side as a witness in the list without indicating the purpose for the same. This will ensure that the other side is not deprived of the services of the advocate on frivolous grounds.

Conclusion

Therefore, in light of the above, an advocate can appear as witness in certain instances. However, it should be noted that an accused is entitled to be defended by a counsel of his choice and the prosecution cannot fetter that choice merely by serving subpoena on the advocate to appear as a witness. Furthermore, the Court is also bound to see that the due administration of justice is not, in any way, embarrassed by permitting the advocate to appear as witness.

 

* Associate, Khaitan & Co., New Delhi, email – susanah.naushad@khaitanco.com

[1]  (2011) 12 SCC 600.

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: In a crucial verdict, the bench of AK Goel and UU Lalit, JJ held that foreign law firms/companies or foreign lawyers cannot practice profession of law in India either in the litigation or in nonlitigation side.

The Court explained:

“practicing of law includes not only appearance in courts but also giving of opinion, drafting of instruments, participation in conferences involving legal discussion. These are parts of non-litigation practice which is part of practice of law. Scheme in Chapter-IV of the Advocates Act makes it clear that advocates enrolled with the Bar Council alone are entitled to practice law, except as otherwise provided in any other law. All others can appear only with the permission of the court, authority or person before whom the proceedings are pending. Regulatory mechanism for conduct of advocates applies to non-litigation work also. The prohibition applicable to any person in India, other than advocate enrolled under the Advocates Act, certainly applies to any foreigner also.”

“Fly in and fly out” basis:

  • Visit of any foreign lawyer on fly in and fly out basis may amount to practice of law if it is on regular basis. A casual visit for giving advice may not be covered by the expression ‘practice’.
  • In case of a dispute whether a foreign lawyer was limiting himself to “fly in and fly out” on casual basis for the purpose of giving legal advice to their clients in India regarding foreign law or their own system of law and on diverse international legal issues or whether in substance he was doing practice which is prohibited can be determined by the Bar Council of India.
  • Bar Council of India or Union of India will be at liberty to make appropriate Rules in this regard including extending Code of Ethics being applicable even to such cases.

Bar on conducting arbitration in India:

  • There is no absolute right of the foreign lawyer to conduct arbitration proceedings in respect of disputes arising out of a contract relating to international commercial arbitration.
  • If the Rules of Institutional Arbitration apply or the matter is covered by the provisions of the Arbitration Act, foreign lawyers may not be debarred from conducting arbitration proceedings arising out of international commercial arbitration in view of Sections 32 and 33 of the Advocates Act. However, they will be governed by code of conduct applicable to the legal profession in India.
  • Bar Council of India or the Union of India are at liberty to frame rules in this regard.

Services provided by BPO Companies:

  • BPO companies providing range of customized and integrated services and functions to its customers may not violate the provisions of the Advocates Act, only if the activities in pith and substance do not amount to practice of law. The manner in which they are styled may not be conclusive.
  • If their services do not directly or indirectly amount to practice of law, the Advocates Act may not apply. This is a matter which may have to be dealt with on case to case basis having regard to a fact situation

The Court was hearing the appeal arising from the Judgment of Madras High Court in A.K. Balaji v. Government of India, 2012 SCC OnLine Mad 723 : AIR 2012 Mad 124 and Bombay High Court in Lawyers Collective v. Bar Council of India, 2009 SCC OnLine Bom 2028 : 2010 (2) Mah LJ 726 on the issue of whether foreign law firms/lawyers are permitted to practice in India. [Bar Council of India v. A.K. Balaji, 2018 SCC OnLine SC 214, decided on 13.03.2018]

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: Dealing with the question as to whether after transfer of a disciplinary proceeding, as per the mandate enshrined under Section 36B(1) of the Advocates Act, 1961 to the Bar Council of India (BCI) from the State Bar Council, can the BCI, instead of enquiring into the complaint and adjudicating thereon, send it back to the State Bar Council with the direction to decide the controversy within a stipulated time, the Court held that the legislature never intended a complaint made against an Advocate either from the perspective of the complainant or from the delinquent to be transferred to BCI, again to be sent back. It was held that BCI, while exercising original jurisdiction on transfer of a complaint, cannot exercise the appellate jurisdiction.

The Court, however, took note of the fact that on many occasions disciplinary authority of the State Bar Council does not dispose of the complaint within the stipulated period, as a consequence of which the proceeding stands transferred to the BCI. Looking down upon such practice, the Court said that once a complaint is made by a litigant, it has to follow a definite procedure and is required to be dealt with as per the command of the Act to conclude the disciplinary proceeding within a period of one year from the date of receipt of the complaint or the date of initiation of the proceedings at the instance of the State Bar Council. Not to do something what one is required to do, tantamount to irresponsibility and the prestige of an institution or a statutory body inheres in carrying out the responsibility.

The bench of Dipak Misra and A.M. Khanwilkar, JJ, hence, directed the State Bar Councils to take a periodical stock of cases in each meeting with regard to the progress of the Disciplinary Committee, find out the cause of delay and guide themselves to act with expediency so that the Council, as a statutory body, does its duty as commanded under the Act. [Ajitsinh Arjunsinh Gohil v. Bar Council of Gujarat, 2017 SCC OnLine SC 351, decided on 06.04.2017]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Madhya Pradesh High Court: Recently, an application was made under Section 482 CrPC against the order in which the plea of applicants under Section 311 CrPC for recalling witnesses who were already examined and re-examined. The reason given by the applicant was that the counsel who was earlier engaged by the applicants could not put several questions on the material aspects, therefore, they had to change their counsel and because of the inability of their earlier counsel, they pleaded that they were being denied the fair trial. The applicants also took a plea under Section 138 of the Evidence Act which talks about the order of examination of witnesses and re-examination.

To this, it was responded by the counsel from the State that although the free and fair trial is the cardinal principle of criminal jurisprudence, but the applicants had engaged the counsel of their own choice and the applicants were given full opportunity to cross examine the witnesses.

The Court went on to examine both the provisions relied upon by the applicants and their inter-connection. The Court observed that a reading of the provision shows that the expression ‘any’ has been used as a prefix to ‘court’, ‘inquiry’, ‘trial’, ‘other proceeding’, ‘person as a witness’, ‘person in attendance though not summoned as a witness’, and ‘person already examined’. It simply means all that is required to satisfy the court in relation to such evidence that it appears to the court to be essential for the just decision of the case. While Section 138 of the Evidence Act provides for the order of examination of witnesses in the Court. So, the re-examination will be conducted as per the order prescribed under Secion 138 at the desire of ‘any’ person referred to in Secion 311 CrPC and most importantly, at the satisfaction of the Court suggested by Section 311 CrPC that is, paramount for the just decision of the case. In all, the Court meant to convey that such power of allowing re-examination must be used sparingly as well as judiciously with utmost care and caution, only with the purpose of finding the truth or obtaining proper proof of such facts.

The Court citing  Hoffman Andreas v. Inspector of Customs, (2000) 10 SCC 430 explained as to when and under what circumstances such powers must be used. It was held in this case that but illness and death of the counsel was in the facts and circumstances considered to be a valid ground for recall of witnesses.

Another principle that the Court emphasised upon is that it’ll always be presumed that the counsel conducting a case is competent particularly when a counsel is appointed by choice of a litigant. It even warned that justice will be prejudiced if a retrial is followed on every change of a counsel and would be detrimental to the interests of the victims, especially so, of heinous crimes, if they are required to repeatedly appear in court to face cross-examination.

It even went on to deal with the possibility that if the counsel is physically or mentally unfit to deal with the case, the interests of justice would suffer badly. The Bench suggested that the Advocates Act and the other relevant rules be reviewed in order to ensure the fitness of the counsel in larger interest of the society and also to avoid such pleas as presented in the case before it. The Court persuaded that the Law Commission and the Bar Council of India must look into it. [Paijaram v. State of M.P., M.Cr.C. No.11624/2016, decided on 20.01.2017]

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: In the matter where the transparency in the process of designation of senior advocates was sought, the Court directed the matter to be listed in the month of February, 2017 for final hearing along with another related matter filed before the Delhi High Court.

A Writ Petition (C) No.6331 of 2016 titled National Lawyers’ Campaign for Judicial Transparency and Reforms & Anr. Vs. Bar Council of India was filed before the Delhi High Court challenging the constitutional validity of Sections 16 and 23(5) of the Advocates Act, 1961 which provide the statutory basis for designation of lawyers as senior advocates. Hence, the Court said that if the source of power for such designation is itself under challenge it would be more appropriate to hear the matters together by transferring the petition pending in the High Court to this Court.

The 3-judge bench of T.S. Thakur, CJ and Dr. D.Y. Chandrachud and L. Nageswar Rao, JJ said that the issues touching designation of lawyers as per the prevalent procedure appears to be causing considerable dissatisfaction among a section of the bar which fact is evident from the large number of interventions made in these proceedings and an equally large number of solutions proposed at the bar for improvement of the system. [Indira Jaising v. Supreme Court of India, 2017 SCC OnLine SC 3, order dated 02.01.2017]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Gujarat High Court: While dismissing an appeal filed by a respondent petitioner who applied for a certificate of practice to the Bar Council of Gujarat while simultaneously rendering services at a corporation, the Division Bench of R. Subhash Reddy, CJ and Vipul M. Pancholi, J said that an advocate who works as a full-time salaried employee of any person, government, firm, corporation or concern, is not entitled to grant of certificate of practice under the Advocates Act, 1961 in view of Rule 49 of the Bar Council of India Rules.

In the instant case, relief was granted previously by means of a writ petition in this Court by a Single Judge to the respondent-petitioner who, having cleared the Bar Council Examination claimed allotment of a temporary enrolment number in the Bar Council of Gujarat. Also, she contended that contractual arrangement of her service with the corporation could not be viewed as employment and it was her case that remuneration paid to her was not by way of salary, as such, there was no employee-employer relationship.

The Court, in view of the conditions of service contract of the corporation observed that the respondent-petitioner was a full-time salaried employee of the corporation, she is not entitled to practice as advocate so long as she continues in such employment and was barred under Rule 49 of the Rules. [Bar Council of Gujarat v. Jalpa Pradeepbhai Desai, 2016 SCC OnLine Guj 5080, decided on 25.12.2016]