1. These are two appeals filed by the same appellant who was the plaintiff in both the suits. In First Appeal No. 150 of 1940 the suit was against thirteen persons who were at one time members of the Lonavla Municipality and in Second Appeal No. 528 of 1940 it was against the Chief Officer of the Municipality at that time. Both the suits were filed for recovering damages for libel of the plaintiff who is a lawyer practising at Lonavla. At one time ha was a member and the Chairman of the School Board, though he was not a councillor of the Municipality itself. He had filed several cases on behalf of his clients against the Municipality. The members of the Municipality thought that in those suits he had made certain false and vexatious statements against the Municipality to his knowledge and on March 7, 1936, they passed a resolution that in view of the fact that the Municipality had been burdened with a large number of suits, the Board considered that the defensive policy hitherto followed by the Municipality was misunderstood and, was taken advantage of against the Municipality to the extent ofmaking false and vexatious statements in Courts clearly with an intent of prejudicing the Courts against the Municipality. It was therefore resolved that action under disciplinary jurisdiction or otherwise for false and vexatious statements made by the pleader of Sakharam Piraji (i.e. the present plaintiff) before the Sub-Divisional Magistrate, Western Division, Poona, in Appeal No. 1 of 1925 be taken as advised by the Municipal lawyer. The advice was that the action of the plaintiff amounted to professional misconduct. Thereupon the Municipality authorised its Chief Officer to present a petition to the High Court for taking action under disciplinary jurisdiction as provided in the Bar Councils Act, and accordingly on April 6, 1936, the Chief Officer sent a petition to the High Court. That petition was supported by the affidayit of the Chief Officer. The plaintiff's case was that in the resolution passed by the Municipality as well as in the petition and the affidavit in support of it there were several statements amounting to libel of the plaintiff, and he therefore filed two separate suits, one against the defendants who, as members of the Municipal borough had voted for the resolution for the libel contained in the resolution, the petition as well as the affidavit, and the other against the Chief Officer for the libel contained in the petition and the affidavit. The defendants in both the cases pleaded absolute privilege and also justification and good faith. The lower Courts held that the statements contained in all the three were absolutely privileged inasmuch as they were all steps taken for setting the judicial machinery of the Bar Council in motion, and that therefore the defendants in both the cases were not liable in damages to the plaintiff. They also held that even though the statements may not be absolutely privileged, the defendants had succeeded in proving justification as well as good faith. The suits were accordingly dismissed.
2. The present appeals are filed against the decrees dismissing both the suits. The main question is whether the statements made by the defendants in both the cases were absolutely privileged. If they were, it is not necessary to go into the other questions. In our opinion, the learned Judges below were right in holding that all those statements were absolutely privileged and therefore the defendants are not liable for libel. It is contended by Mr. Gokhale on behalf of the appellant that the statements were not absolutely privileged because they were not made in any judicial proceeding or in any step to be taken for the purpose of taking judicial proceedings. Now, the proceedings under the Bar Councils Act are initiated under Section 10 of the Act by forwarding a complaint to the High Court. Such complaint may be preferred by any Court or by the Bar Council on by any other person complaining that any advocate has become guilty of misconduct. On receipt of the complaint the High Court shall, if it does not summarily reject the complaint, refer the case for inquiry either to the Bar Council or, after consultation with the Bar Council, to the Court of a District Judge and may of its own motion so refer any case in which it has otherwise reason to believe that any such advocate has been so guilty. Under Section 11 after the High Court sends the complaint to the Bar Council, it shall, be inquired into by a Committee of the Bar Council called a Tribunal which is empowered to enforce the attendance of witnesses, production of documents, and examination of witnesses. Under Section 13 every inquiry made by the Tribunal shall be deemed to be a judicial proceeding with-in the meaning of Sections 193 and 228 of the Indian Penal Code. It is further pro-vided that for the purpose of enforcing the attendance of any person and exarnining him upon oath the local limits of the jurisdiction of a Tribunal shall be those of the jurisdiction of the High Court by which the Tribunal has been constituted.
3. It is quite clear, and it is also conceded, that by virtue of these provisions all proceedings before the Tribunal of the Bar Council are judicial proceedings. It is, however, urged that in the present case the High Court did not forward the complaint to the Bar Council on the ground that suitable action had been taken by itself, and as no judicial proceedings had been started against the plaintiff, the petition cannot be deemed to be absolutely privileged under the law. We are unable to accept this argument. It is no doubt true that if the High Court so chose it may not forward the complaint to the Bar Council. But if the High Court is satisfied that there are prima facie grounds for proceeding against an advocate, it sends the same complaint to the Bar Council on which the proceedings start. The complaint or the application to the High Court must, therefore, in our opinion, be regarded as an essential step for taking judicial proceedings. The law is summarized in Halsbury's Laws of England, Hailsham Edition, Vol. XX, p. 465', para. 564; as follows :-
The privilege attaches not merely to proceedings at the trial, but to proceedings which are essential steps in judicial proceedings, including statements in pleadings and communications passing between a solicitor and his client on the subject on which the client has retained the solicitor and which are relevant to the matter.
4. In this connection we might usefully refer to the decision in Lilley v. Ro-ney (1892) 61 L.J. Q.B. 727. The decision is that a letter of complaint against a solicitor in respect of his professional conduct, with affidavit of alleged charges attached, forwarded to the Registrar of the Incorporated Law Society, in accordance with Form I in the schedule of the rules under the Solicitors Act, 1888, is so essential a step in a judicial proceeding that statements in such letter or affidavit will be absolutely privileged. If such a letter of complaint to the Registrar of the Incorporated Law Society is regarded as an essential step in a judicial proceeding, we see no reason why the petition as well as the affidavit in support of it addressed to the High Court for taking steps under the Bar Councils Act be not regarded as such an essential step. That being so, all the statements contained in the petition as well as the affidavit are, in our opinion, absolutely privileged.
5. As to the resolution which preceded the petition and which empowered the Chief Officer to take the opinion of the Municipality's lawyer for the purpose of taking steps against the plaintiff, Section 10 of the BarCouncils Act authorizes any person to send a complaint against an advocate to the High Court, and if the Municipality thought it necessary to do so, it had the power to forward a complaint to the High Court. But no such complaint can be forwarded unless the Municipality passes a resolution for doing so. A resolution passed by the Municipality to take legal advice and to take steps under the Bar Councils Act against any person, if so advised, must also, in our opinion, be regarded as the first essential step so far as the Municipality is concerned for invoking the judicial machinery of the Bar Councils Act, and we think therefore that if the petition is absolutely privileged, the resolution passed to take legal advice and if necessary to apply to the High Court must also be regarded as absolutely privileged. No action for defamation would therefore lie against the defendants in both the cases even if there was no justification for the statements contained therein. The lower Courts have held on the evidence that the statements contained in all the three documents were substantially true and also made in good faith. As we are of the opinion that they were absolutely privileged, it is not necessary to discuss that evidence.
6. We, therefore, think that the decrees of the lower Courts in both the cases are correct and must be confirmed. The appeals are dismissed with costs.