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Municipal Corporation of Greater Bombay and anr. Vs. Vijay Metal Works - Court Judgment

LegalCrystal Citation
SubjectService;Civil
CourtMumbai High Court
Decided On
Case NumberWrit Petn. No. 3253 of 1980
Judge
Reported inAIR1982Bom6; 1981MhLJ798
ActsEvidence Act, 1872 - Sections 126 and 129
AppellantMunicipal Corporation of Greater Bombay and anr.
RespondentVijay Metal Works
Appellant AdvocateWalawalkar,;M.V. Sherty,;Kamat and;P.B. Karhadkar, Advs.
Respondent AdvocateC.M. Korde, Adv. i/b Crawford Baylay Company
Excerpt:
.....of common man about the manner in which the public bodies like corporation is..........as regards privilege, according to the corporation, this was a confidential communication by the legal adviser of the corporation sec. 129 of the evidence act. the learned judge of the small causes court by his order dated 8th oct., 1980 held that his communication was not privileged either under s. 129 or under s. 126 of the evidence act, he, therefore, ordered the production of that letter and adjourned the case till 28th oct., this order had been challenged in the present petition.2. shri r.t.walawalkar the learned counsel for the petitioners argued that the letter dated 5-2-1975 was a confidential communication by the legal adviser of his client, the municipal corporation of greater bombay. under section 129 of the evidence act no one shall be compelled to disclose to the court any.....
Judgment:
ORDER

1. The petitioners had imitated action against the respondents for eviction on the ground that Mahalaxmi Bridge at Bombay was to be reconstructed and those premises which are in the shape or Arches at the junction of Clark Road and Hama Road were to be vacated. The notices were, therefore, served by the petitioners upon the respondents and eviction proceedings under Section 105-B of the Bombay Municipal Corporation Act, 1988 were taken, before the Small Causes Court at Bombay. During the cross-examination of the witness for the respondents, the Corporation was called upon to produce original letter dated 5-2 1975. Earlier inspection of this letter was granted by the Corporation and I am told that the letter had been filed before the Enquiry. Officer of the Corporation. When the respondents called upon the Advocate of the Corporation to produce the original letter dated 5-2-1975, an objection was raised mainly as regards privilege, According to the Corporation, this was a confidential communication by the Legal Adviser of the Corporation Sec. 129 of the Evidence Act. The learned Judge of the Small Causes Court by his order dated 8th Oct., 1980 held that his communication was not privileged either under S. 129 or under S. 126 of the Evidence Act, He, therefore, ordered the production of that letter and adjourned the case till 28th Oct., This order had been challenged in the present petition.

2. Shri R.T.Walawalkar the learned counsel for the petitioners argued that the letter dated 5-2-1975 was a confidential communication by the Legal Adviser of his client, the Municipal Corporation of Greater Bombay. Under Section 129 of the Evidence Act no one shall be compelled to disclose to the Court any confidential communication which has taken place between him and his legal professional adviser, unless he offers himself as a witness, in which case, he may be compelled to disclose any such communication as may appear to the Court necessary to be known in order to explain any evidence which he has given, but not others. Shri Walawalkar, therefore, argued that the learned Judge was in error in compelling the production of this document by the Corporation.

3. Shri Korde, the learned counsel appearing for the respondents argued that the Law Officer of the Corporation who had written the said letter dated 5-2-1975, is not covered by either S. 126 or 129 of the Evidence Act. A salaried Law Officer of his Corporation is not the Legal Adviser, or even Barrister, Vakil or Attorney. He is a paid employee of the Corporation and there is no relationship between the Corporation and him as that of client the Corporation and him as that of client and Legal Adviser, He further submitted that what Ss. 126 and 129 contemplate is that a person who is practicing law in Courts of law has the privilege under these sections and it is not an employee who acts as a Law Officer who is protected by these sections. He further submitted that Ss. 126 and 129 are supplementary to each other and they must be construed in the same manner and a Legal Adviser which is mentioned in S. 129 must be of the category of a Barrister, Vakil or Attorney as mentioned in S. 126. And not anybody employed by a Corporation or a Company.

4. Section 126 protects the professional communications made by a client to his barrister, attorney, pleader of vakil, It prohibits these persons from disclosing any communication made to them in the course and for the purpose of their employment as such barrister, pleader, attorney or vakil by or on behalf of the client, unless there is an express permission of the client to disclose the same. These persons are also prohibited from stating contents or conditions of any document with which they are acquainted in the course of and for the purpose of their professional employment, they also cannot be compelled to disclose what advice was tendered by them to the client in the course of and for the purpose of such employment. However, the section does not protect and disclosure regarding any such employment. However, the section does not protect any disclosure regarding any such communication made in furtherance of any illegal purpose of any fact observed by any barrister, pleader, attorney or vakil, in the course of his employment as suh, showing that any crime or fraud had been committed since the commencement of his employment, It is immaterial under this section whether attention of such barrister, pleader, attorney or vakil was or was not directed to such fact by or on behalf of his client. These obligations not to disclose certain communications as stated above continue even after the employment as such has come to an Sec. 129 gives protection to persons that shall not be compelled to disclose to the Court any confidential communication which has taken place between him and his legal professional adviser, unless he offers himself as a witness, in which case, he may be compelled to disclose any such communications as may appear to the Court necessary to be known in order to explain any evidence which he has given but not others. Therefore, any confidential communication between a client and a legal professional adviser is protected under S. 126 and they shall not be compelled to disclose any such person offers himself as a witness and it appears to the Court that such disclosure is necessary in order to explain any evidence which such person has given and nothing beyond than that, However, the crucial question which arises in this petition is what it the status of a salaried Legal Adviser who is an employee of the corporation of and Central Government. Merely because he does not appear in the Court does he cease to get this protection of law? Is it that only those persons who are professing and practicing law in the Law Courts are entitled to protection under the law of evidence? A close reading of these sections would make it clear that what is protected is a disclosure made in confidence by a client to his legal adviser, Of course, there is not protection to any such statement which is for illegal purpose or for offence for practicing fraud or for committing forgeries, While considering these two sections we must look to the spirit behind the lwa rather than the letter of law. In the recent past a practice of employing legal advisers who are well qualified in law has grown up. Instead of going to the professional lawyers every now and then a practice has come into operation to retain the lawyers in full time employment of the Corporation. Their nature of duty is to advise their employers on the questions which are of a legal character. They advise their employers on all matters pertaining to law and ilitigation. Their nature of duties is the same as that of barrister, pleader, vakil, or attorney except that they do not appear in Courts. If it is so, then I do not see any reason why they should not get same protection of law as the other legal advisers who appear in Courts of law. In my opinion, therefore, a paid or salarie employee who advises his employer, on all questions of law and relating to litigation, must get the same protection of law and therefore any such communication made in confidence by his employer to him for the purpose of seeking legal advise or vice versa should get protection of Sections 129 and 129 of the Evidence Act. In AIR 1954 J &K; 2. Tirath Ram v. His Highness Govt, Jammu and Kashmir, the learned judge has observed that a communication made by a legal Remembrancer of the Government is privileged under Section 129, Even though there is no elaborate discussion of this question. I respectfully agree with the statement of law made by the learned judge. What the learned judge of the Jammu and Kashmir held in 1954 has been elaborated by Lord Denning M.R. in (1972) 2 QB 102 . The Great Judge in Commrs, (C.A.) has observed as follows:-

'The law relating to discovery was developed by the Chancery Courts in the first half of the 19th century. At that time nearly all legal advisers were in independent practice on their own account. Nowadays it is very different. Many barristers and solicitors are different. Many barristers and solicitors are employed as legal advisers, whole time, by a single employer, Sometimes the employer is a great commercial concern. At other times it is a government department or a local authority. It may even be the government itself, lime the Treasury Solicitor and his staff. In every case these legal advisers do legal work for their employer and for no each piece or work, but by a fixed annual salary. They are, no doubt, servants or agents of the employer. For that reason forbes J. Thought that they were in a different position from other legal advisers who are in private practice. I do not think this is correct. They are regarded by the law as in every respect in the same position as those who practice on their own account. The only difference is that they act for one client only, and not for several clients. They must uphold the same standards of honour and of etiquette. They are subject to the same duties to their clients have the same privileges. I have myself in my early days settled scores of affidavits of documents for the employers of such legal advisers, I have always proceeded on the footing that the communications between the legal advisers and their employer (who is their client) are the subject or legal professional privilege: and I have never known it questioned. There are manu cases in the books of actions against railway companies where privilege has been claimed in this way. The validity of it has never been doubted.

I speak, of course, of their communications In the capacity of legal advisers. It does sometimes happen that such a legal adviser does work for his employer in another capacity. Perhaps or an executive nature. Their communications in that capacity would not be the subject of legal professional privilege, so the legal adviser must be scrupulous to make the distinction. Being a servant or agent too, he may be under more pressure from his client. So he must be careful to resist it. He must be as independent in the doing of right as any other legal adviser. It is true, as the Law Reform Committee and in their report in 1967 on Privilege in civil procedure (Cmd. 3474) that the 'system is susceptible to abuse.' But I have never known it abtised. So much so that I do not think the law should be changed in the way that Forbes J. World have it. There is a safeguard against abuse. It is ready at hand. If there is any doubt as to the propriety or validity of a claim for privilege, the master of the judge should without hesitation inspect the documents himself so as to see if the claim is well founded, of not. He has ample power under R.S.C. Order 24, R. 12. The affidavit should not be treated as conclusive, nor anything like it, A party cannot use the affidavit as a taboo or spell to prevent any one looking at the documents. When the master or judge sees the documents, he will see if the privilege is rightly claimed - or not - and make an order accordingly.' With due respect to the learned Judge, I am in full agreement with the position of law stated in this case. I therefore, hold that a salaried employee who advises his employer on all legal questions and also other legal matter would get the same protection as others under Sections 126 and 129 of the Evidence Act and even otherwise these communications are properly covered by these sections.

5. It was then contended that since such communication is privileged one the learned Judge was in error in ordering production of that document. It is, therefore, necessary to see whether the letter in question is confidential one which is protected by these sections. A reading of this letter makes it clear that the Law Officer of the Corporation had prepared a note for the Corporation had prepared a note for the purpose of sending a reply by the Municipal Commissioner to a letter of the State Government. It refers to the endorsement dated 25-1-1975. The endorsement number if MGC/8959 dated 21-5-1975. This is an endorsement made to the Law Officer that a draft reply for the Municipal Commissioner's approval has to the letter from the Government Dated 24-1-1875, wherein the Government had made certain quesries. It, therefore, appears that the Law Officer was requested 16 prepare a draft reply to the letter dated 24th January. 1975 for the purpose of Municipal commissioner who was supposed to reply that letter. It appears that no legal advice was sought from the Law Officer on any question, On the contrary this draft letter discloses the facts as this letter is that eviction proceedings under S. 105/B of the Corporation Act were storied against the occupants of the Arches below Mahalaxmi Bridge on the ground or reconstruction of Mahalaxmi Bridge, but really they were not covered by the reconstruction of Mahalaxmi Bridge and it was necessary to drop enquiries against those occupiers and it was also decided to create a public purpose i.e. storage of cement etc. For the bridge so as to evict the occupants on the ground of public interest. It was also sought from the Municipal commissioner whether the Corporation should apprise the State Minister for Urban Development about the real facts of the case as to why the eviction proceedings have been started against the occupants. In may opinion, this document is not in the nature of a confidential communication between the client and hid legal adviser. On the contrary it discloses certain shocking facts that would destory the privilege, if any. This shows that the enquiries were started against the occupants on a false ground and pretext that they were required to be evicted because of the reconstruction of Mahalaxmi Bridge. However, since they were not under the Mahalaxmi Bridge the enquiries were dropped and the Corporation was preparing another false ground to evict the occupants as if it was in the public interest. Certain facts were sought to be suppressed from the Government for which the orders of the Municipal commissioner were required. The text of the entire letter is such that it shocks the conscience of common man about the manner in which the public bodies like Corporation is behaving. In my opinion, such a document can never get any protection of law either under section 126 or 129 of the Evidence Act.

6. Apart from this, this letter has been produced in another enquiry No. 119/1976, 240/1976 as Exhibit 1. The original document has been produced before the Enquiry Officer. The respondent was also given inspection of the same with the express consent of the Municipal Corporaion, Considering these facts. I do not think that any such protection either under section 129 or 129 of the Evidence Act is available to the petitioners.

7. In the result, therefore, I confirm the order passed by the learned Judge, though for different reasons. The application, therefore, fails and is dismissed. Rule is discharged. Corporation should pay costs of this petition to the respondents and bear its own Petition dismissed.


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