1. On the 15th of July 1924, Mr. Tej Narain Mulla, Session Judge of Gorakhpur, sentenced a Vakil named Raghubir Prasad, to two concurrent sentences of five years' rigorous imprisonment for offences coming within under Sections 466 and 193 of the Indian Penal Code. These offences were committed by Raghubir Prasad and others in the course of a Civil Suit No. 298 of 1923, Hari Har Prasad v. Shyam Lal, At the close of the judgment (page 65) the learned Sessions Judge called the attention of the High Court to the conduct of Ahmad Ashraf, a Vakil engaged along with Raghubir Prasad, particularly in relation to a document, Ex. 37, and to certain statements made by him when under examination by the Committing Magistrate under Section 164 of the Criminal P.C. which the learned Sessions Judge believed to be deliberately untrue.
2. The appeal of Raghubir Prasad having been heard by a Bench of this Court and dismissed, notice was issued to Ahmad Ashraf to show cause why disciplinary action should not be taken against him for having on the 10th of January 1924, joined with Raghubir Prasad in filing a petition of reply to an application for review of judgment presented by the plaintiffs, well knowing that the said petition contained false statements and intending fraudulently and dishonestly thereby to defeat the said application. The further charge was in respect of statements made by him on the 24th of September 1924, in the Court of the Committing Magistrate, which were known by him to be untrue, and made with the object of dissociating himself from Raghubir Prasad and the other conspirators.
3. By the 10th of January 1924 Raghubir Prasad, Sheo Autar, Deo Narain Pande and Ganjeshri were in a position of great peril.
4. Ganjeshri had forged three birth certificates of the sons of Jokhu Mal, the father of some of the defendants in the civil suit. Raghubir Prasad, Sheo Autar and Deo Narain Pande were also involved in the conspiracy and had used these documents in Court. These documents, known as X, Y and Z, purported to be extracts from birth registers, were apparently duly sealed and officially vouched for, but were in fact forgeries and inventions. That is to say, the registers did not contain any entry corresponding to anything contained in X, Y and Z. They were not copies of any documents. They were entirely fictitious.
5. On the strength of these documents the learned Judge had in the civil suit on the 12th of December 1923, declared one Sahdeo to be a minor. This was an issue of the greatest importance to the defendants. By the 17th of December the plaintiffs, being suspicious, had made careful and diligent enquiries and inspected the original registers. On that day they submitted to the Court an application for review, which exposed the whole fraud. The document was drafted with precision and particularity, and was convincing on the face of it. On its perusal Raghubir, Prasad, Sheo Autar, Deo Narain Pande and Ganjeshri must have been aware that they could escape an ultimate conviction by a miracle only.
6. In the circumstances it occurred to some one that the position might be alleviated by fresh forgeries. An attempt was made to insert even at this late date entries of births of sons in accordance with the imaginary copies already filed by the defendants. That, however, was too dangerous and was abandoned. Some astute dishonest person suggested that the issue would be greatly confused if instead of Jokhu Lal having only four-sons, it could be proved that he had a fifth. This was in comparison, an elementary forgery and it was duly carried out by Ganjeshri, who obtained access to the register of deaths of Patarhat and inserted the death of a son as on the 27th of February, 1905. The forgery having been committed, Ahmad Ashraf, at the request of Raghubir Prasad inspected the register. He reported to Raghubir Prasad that he had discovered the entry of the death. In making this inspection Ahmad Ashraf may have been acting innocently. Raghubir Prasad's object in getting him to inspect the register was no doubt that he wanted to be on sure ground as to the existence in fact of the entry.
7. On January 3rd, 1924, an application was made by Ahmad Ashraf for an adjournment of the review on the ground inter alia of Raghubir Prasad's illness and the need for the production of evidence. Ahmad Ashraf admitted before us that the evidence was the entry in the death register of Patarhat. So that he must have been to some extent, in the confidence of Raghubir Prasad, who was the vakil principally if not exclusively engaged in this affair.
8. It must have struck Ahmad Ashraf as a most extraordinary circumstance that the case had ail along been fought on the basis of Jokhu Lal having only four sons, and that none of the defendants, who were the sons of Jokhu Lal, had ever previously mentioned this most important fact. A son born in 1901 would have helped the defendants, in establishing the minority of Sahdeo.
9. A conference of the lawyers and the defendants and their pairokars was held on the 8th of January 1924. The document of the 17th of December 1923, was considered. For reasons best known to Raghubir Prasad and to Ahmad Ashraf no mention was made to the other lawyers present of the notable discovery of the existence between 1901 and 1905 of a son of Jokhu Lal. We can have no doubt that the other lawyers were kept designedly in the dark. Mr. Ahmad Ashraf has admitted that a vakil of the plaintiffs had told him, some time before the meeting that forged documents Were being used by his side, he admitted that he thought it was so, and that the forger was Sheo Autar. He says that when he went to the interview he was 'frightened' about the case. Yet he sat quiet and did not disclose to his fellow vakils anything about the Patarhat discovery. He says that he thought they had already been told. If so, he must have been amazed that no one mentioned it. Whilst acquitting Ahmad Ashraf of any knowledge of the antecedent forgery arranged by Raghubir Prasad and Ganjeshri Prasad, we believe that at the meeting he acted in concert with Raghubir Prasad and on instructions from him avoided all reference to the alleged fifth son. By this date Raghubir Prasad and the other conspirators had undoubtedly decided to cut their way through if they could, and they did not want inconvenient enquiries from the other vakils. On the assurances of the pairokars that X, Y and Z were genuine and without any effort to substantiate this by inspection of the registers, it was decided to resist the application for review.
10. Thereupon Raghubir Prasad drafted a document (Ex. 37) which was the answer to the application. Notwithstanding that the plaintiffs had pointed out in their application, which was being answered by Raghubir Prasad, that there were no entries in the registers corresponding to X, Y and Z, the answer opened with an assertion that these documents were genuine copies. This was a falsehood easily and immediately demonstrable on inspection of the registers. Paragraph 3 contained a most offensive charge, entirely without foundation, of possible malpractice by the plaintiffs, in collusion with officials, of the copying department or record room.
11. Paragraph 4 was an impudent assertion that the copies filed by the plaintiffs are untrustworthy and seem to be altogether fictitious, and concludes with the definite charge that when the issue relating to age was decided and the plaintiffs had no hope of being successful in the principal case, they took invalid proceedings and produced forged copies.'
12. Then came the allegation that 'besides the four sons a son was born to Jokhu Lal in 1901, who died at a very tender age on the 27th of February 1905, at the house of his maternal grandfather at Patarhat; consequently no documentary or oral evidence was produced in respect of him nor was he mentioned in any way in the course of evidence.' On the 10th of January 1924, this very disgraceful document was sent by Raghubir Prasad to Ahmad Ashraf and he signed it. The learned Sessions Judge says:
When he put his signature on Ex. P-37 the defendants' reply to the plaintiffs' application for review, he must have fully realized that he was making himself responsible for setting up an entirely false case on behalf of the defendants. In fact the whole of his conduct between the 2nd of January 1924 up till the end of the case, is open to the gravest suspicion. I have very carefully considered the question but, I find it most impossible to believe that any Vakil appearing on behalf of the defendants could have put his signature on Ex. P-37 without realizing that an entirely false case was being set up.
13. We invited Ahmad Ashraf to put, if he Could, any innocent interpretation of his silence as to the fifth son at the meeting and to give us some reasons which would justify his having identified himself with Raghubir Prasad in the answer of the 10th of January. He could really give no explanation to show that he had any honest belief in the genuineness of the new case set up in para. 5 or of the charges of forgery, collusion and fraud made against the plaintiffs and officials in the copying and record departments.
14. His defence really amounted to this: that he was entitled to sign anything that Raghubir Prasad submitted to him, and that, no matter how unfounded or scandalous the statements might be and how great an abuse of the privileges of counsel or of the processes of the Court, he was protected by the fact that the document had been drafted by a man senior to him.
15. This sort of defence has been put up more than once, and we wish the profession to understand that a man who signs his name to a document makes himself thereby in every way as responsible for it as if he was the original drafter of it. If it turns out that the document is one which no man acting honestly could in the circumstances have drafted, then he will be bound to answer for every word, line, sentence and paragraph, and it will not be the least defence that some body else wrote it out and he only signed it. Signature implies association and carries responsibility. We are of opinion that Ahmad Ashraf having already been told that forgeries had been committed, and having accepted that statement, and being, as he says, frightened on the 8th of January, could not honestly have believed the assertions of forgery by the plaintiffs and Court officials alleged by Raghubir Prasad on the 10th of January. Even if the very definite statements in the application for review as to the actual non-existence of X, Y and Z had been doubted by him, a visit to the Collector's office and a five minutes' inspection of the registers would have convinced him of what he already had little doubt about, that the defendants were the forgers and not the plaintiffs.
16. We, therefore, find that Ahmad Ashraf did on the 10th of January 1924, join with Raghubir Prasad in filing the document of that date, and that he well knew that the petition contained false statements, and that these were made to deceive the Court and fraudulently and dishonestly to defeat the application.
17. The second part of the charge against Ahmad Ashraf can be dealt with quite shortly. When he was examined as a witness on the 24th September 1924, the Magistrate was anxious to ascertain to what extent he had been previously connected with Sheo Autar, Deo Narain Pande and the defendants. He said: 'I had no concern with Sheo Autar, Deo Narain and the defendants from before and to the best of my recollection I did not appear as a pleader for them in any case previous to this.' He, in fact, was at the very time appearing for the defendants in another case which had been instituted shortly before No. 298 of 1923 and he was in fact engaged in August 1924 (i.e., a month before making his deposition) in execution proceedings in that very case.
18. He sought to justify his answer to the Magistrate by telling us that he thought the point of the question turned upon the words 'from before' that he made a mistake in not remembering that the other case was in fact earlier in date. He also said that on September 24, 1924, he had forgotten that he had signed three papers in August with reference to the execution proceedings.
19. These answers did not meet with our approval, nor did we give weight to the argument, which was addressed to us. It was said, as it has been before in these cases, that it is the common practice of clerks in the mufussil to draft applications and documents even of importance and that the vakil almost invariably signs them without reading them. Ahmad Ashraf explained that he had not read any one of the documents in the execution proceedings and that was why he remembered nothing about the concurrent case.
20. Again we wish it to be understood that a defence of this kind will not be accepted and that if a legal practitioner puts his signature to a document, he will be deemed to have read it and to carry it in his recollection to the extent that an ordinarily competent, careful and reasonable man would carry it, and he will be bound by all the implications arising from it just as much as if he had written every word of it with his own hand. Practitioners must realize that if they make, or associate themselves with, statements which they know are dishonest and untruthful for the purpose of misleading the Court, they must on proof of misconduct bear personal responsibility, and that it will be no defence for them to say that it was done in the interests of the client or at his instigation or at the instigation of a colleague at the Bar, or that they were so negligent in the matter that they did not read the document or consider it at all.
21. We find the second charge proved against Ahmad Ashraf, and we suspend him on both charges for six months, such period of suspension to run concurrently. If subsequently cases similar to this are brought before the Court, we shall not show the future wrong-doers the leniency we now extend to Ahmad Ashraf. We assess the fee of the learned Government Advocate at Rs. 200.