1. This is a complaint by one Ramratan Maheshwari, resident of village Deshnok, Tehsil Bikaner, for professional misconduct against Shri Shridhar Kalla, an advocate of this Court. Shri Kalla has been practising in Jaipur for the last three or four years but was regularly practising in the Courts at Jodhpur upto 1952.
2. The allegations made by the petitioner in his petition dated 28-10-1953, may be briefly summarised as follows. The petitioner's case is that he had engaged Shri Kalla in three cases from 1948 onwards. In the first place, he had engaged Shri Kalla to file a suit against Tarachand and Leelchand sons of Khivraj of Barmer for Rs. 1098/4/6 in the Court of the Munsiff, Jodhpur City, and that he had paid him a sum of Rs. 125/- on account of his professional fees and expenses (Rs. 50/- by way of remuneration and Rs. 75/- for court-fees, and certain incidental expenses) in connection with this suit on or about 11-3-1948.
Ramratan's case further is that immediately after this engagement he had personally given all the original documents to Shri Kalla to be filed with the plaint and that a plaint had also been prepared by the latter and that he had signed that and a Vakalatnama as well, and gave all these papers to Sri Kalla for presenting them in Court.
The petitioner's complaint is that Shri Kalla filed this suit (No. 255 of 1951) as late as 2-7-1951 (as a matter of fact the suit was filed on 2-6-1951, which was the last working day before the summer vacation in 1951) and that the plaint was filed on a court-fee of Rs. 5/- only and without the original documents or even a list of documents and further that the plaint which was actually presented in Court in 1951 by Shri Kalla did not bear the petitioner's signature nor did the power of attorney filed with the plaint bear his signature.
The petitioner's case is that Shri Kalla had not filed the suit for a long time for some reason best known to him, and that as the petitioner was not satisfied with the answers given by Shri Kalla to his verbal and other inquiries made by him from time to time, he arranged to serve Shri Kalla With a registered notice through another counsel Shri Nandlal Advocate of Bikaner, which was received by Shri Kalla on 3-6-1950 (vide postal acknowledgment Ex. 4), and that he further gave a registered letter (vide its copy Ex. 8) on 7-3-1952, which was also received by Shri Kalla on 11-3-1952 (vide postal acknowledgment Ex. 9) and that later when he came to Jodhpur and inspected the file on 26-10-1953, he came to know of the gross-negligence, misappropriation and misconduct committed by Shri Kalla in connection with this case in the above-mentioned respects. The petitioner further stated that Shri Kalla had never returned the original documents to him nor were they available on the Court record.
In the second place, the petitioner's complaint was that he had engaged Shri Kalla to file a suit against Hiralal Bhanwarlal and certain other persons (Suit No. 25 of 1948-49) in the Court of District Judge, Jodhpur, also early in 1948, and that in connection with that suit he had paid Shri Kalla a sum of Rs. 101/8/- to defray witness expenses, apart from the latter's fees and other incidental costs. His grievance is that as he had brought all his witnesses and paid for them himself, this money remained with Shri Kalla and that he did not return the same.
The last allegation is that the petitioner had also engaged Shri Kalla to file a suit against the firm Magurnal Dholandas (Suit No. 408 of 1950) in the Court of the Munsiff, Jodhpur City. The suit was filed against Sindhi Jiwandas proprietor of the said firm and was for a sum of Rs. 1280/- and was actually instituted on 3-7-1950. The petitioner's grievance is that in addition to the sum of Rs. 101/8/- which remained with Shri Kalla as already stated in connection with the second case above, he further gave a sum of Rs. 50/- to Shri Kalla in connection with this suit but the latter retained these monies (i.e., 151/8/-) and did not file any suit against Magumal Dholandas.
The petitioner, therefore, complained to this Court that Shri Kalla had improperly retained the former's monies and that he had displayed utter negligence in conducting his cases and was further guilty of gross professional misconduct, and prayed for appropriate action against him.
3. As the allegations made against Shri Kalla Were prima facie serious, the matter was referred to a tribunal of the Bar Council for inquiry and report. The tribunal has conducted the inquiry and submitted its report dated 16-12-1955.
4. The findings of the tribunal, briefly put, are that the allegations made by the petitioner with respect to the second and third cases referred to above are false and baseless and deserve to be dismissed. On the remaining charge, their finding Is that Shri Kalla was not to blame for not filing the plaint till 2-6-1951, in suit No. 251 of 1951 (Tarachand's case), nor was it proved that the signatures of the petitioner Ramratan on the plaint and theVakalatnama therein were not genuine, and that it was also not proved that the petitioner had entrusted the original documents of this case to Shri Kalla.
The tribunal is, however, definitely of the opinion that the plaint in this case was, presented in the Court of the Munsiff on a court-fee stamp-of Rs. 5/- only and not of Rs. 75/- as alleged by Shri Kalla, but their final conclusion is that since there was no evidence for holding that Shri Kalla had himself misappropriated the money meant for defraying the court-fees and it was as well likely that his munshi Banshidhar might have misappropriated this money, Shri Kalla 'is' certainly guilty of negligence in discharging his professional duties towards his client on account of his Munshi's fault and particularly when he failed to make sure before the plaint was presented that the necessary stamps were also being filed along with it.'
5. We might state straightway that the findings of the tribunal have not been questioned before us in so far as they relate to the petitioner's cases against (1) Hiralal and (2) the firm Magumal Dholandas, We consider it enough to state that We entirely concur in the conclusion of the tribunal on this part of the case and hold that the petitioner's allegations to this extent are quite baseless, and must be dismissed. We shall, therefore, concentrate our attention upon the remaining charge relating to Tarachand's case only in our judgment.
6. Shri Kalla's reply before the tribunal with regard to this charge was, we should like to say at the very outset, not as full or straightforward as we should have liked it to be. All he stated in his . reply dated 17-6-1954 in this connection was that the allegations made against him were false.
Shri Kalla then admitted that instructions to file a suit against Tarachand and Leelchand had been in the first instance received by him from the petitioner Ramratan in 1950, but further pleaded that his fees had not been paid and it was also represented to him that the parties were trying to settle the dispute amicably.
Shri Kalla's reply further is that when he had been paid his fees (the precise date thereof is not disclosed) a fair copy of the plaint and the vakalatnama were given to the petitioner's son Baj-ranglal for getting them signed by his father, and as soon as these had been received, the suit was filed on full court-fee in June, 1951.
According to Shri Kalla, the case was still pending (at the date of his reply) in the Court of the Munsiff, Jodhpur City, and was fixed for the plaintiff's evidence and that in spite of repeated reminders, the petitioner, was not at all helpful in conducting this case.
We cannot help mentioning here that Shri Kalla does not mention a word in his reply as to whether Ram Ratan had given him any documents in original and if so whether he had put them in Court, or if not why not. He has also failed to state fully or clearly how and why the plaint came to be presented as late as 2-6-1951. He has also not cared to reply as to the alleged notices sent by the petitioner regarding the progress of this case in 1,950 and 1952.
We may also point out an important circumstance at this stage that Shri Babalal, Advocate, brief-holder for Shri Kalla on being required by the Munsiff to make good the deficiency of court-fee which had been apparently brought to his notice (the exact date of his knowledge is not ascertain-able, but it must have been on or about 11-11-1953, vide ordersheet of that date) deposited court-fee stamps of the value of Rs. 75/- on 2-12-1953.
It may also be mentioned that this suit was later dismissed for default of the plaintiff or his counsel on 8-7-1954, and that thereafter Shri Kallamade an application for restoration on 6-8-1954, and this is still pending disposal in the Court of the Munsiff.
7. Before proceeding further, we consider it pertinent to remark that Shri Kalla failed to put in appearance before us at the time of the hearing in this Court and this, to our mind, is all the more regrettable as the case had been adjourned on an earlier occasion at his request, vide order-sheet dated 7-8-1956.
Be that as it may, we have heard learned coun_, sel for the petitioner and Mr. Sumerchand Bhan-dari, standing Government counsel on behalf of the State and Mr. Hastimal Secretary Bar Council at length, and we have ourselves perused the record of the case with care to avoid possible injustice to Shri Kalla as a result of his lack of appearance before us.
8. On behalf of the petitioner it was strenuously pressed before us that the findings of the tribunal do not go the whole length they should have gone, and it was fully established on the record that Shri Kalla had not only failed to file the plaint in the relevant suit on a court-fee stamp of Rs. 757-in due time but that he had deliberately with held the money paid to him in that behalf by the peti-tioner for a long time and that it was further proved that Shri Kalla. was also grossly negligent in not filing the documents which had been given to him by the petitioner in Court and that the plaint itself had been filed in the Court of the Munsiff Jodhpur City after a very great delay with the result that even limitation had gone out, and lastly that Shri Kalla had put in a plaint and a Vakalatnama purporting to bear the petitioner's signatures but which were not his, and for all these acts of omission and commission, Shri Kalla should be held guilty, not merely of negligence as opined by the tribunal, but of gross professional misconduct.
9. We think it right to state at the very outset that the learned members of the tribunal were rather unfavourably impressed with the testimony of the petitioner Ramratan inasmuch as he had included certain allegations in his complaint which were entirely baseless and therefore the learned members were strongly disinclined to believe Ramratan where the case against Shri Kalla, according to them, rested for its proof upon his oral testimony only.
Ramratan clearly stated in his deposition before the tribunal that he had no complaint against Shri Kalla in the matter of Hiralal's case. Nor indeed could he have any because when he actually came to make his complaint in the High Court on 28-10-1953, we find that Ramratan's suit against Heeralal and others had been dismissed by the Civil Judge on 29-9-1950, and his appeal before the District Judge, Jodhpur, had also been dismissed on 26-9-1952, and his second appeal also stood dismissed by a Bench of this Court on 26-3-1953.
Ramratan had made no demand on Shri Kalla to return any monies alleged to have been paid to the latter in connection with this case. It may also be mentioned that Ramratan's complaint, so far as the case against the firm Magumal Dholan-das was concerned, was also baseless inasmuch as he was compelled to admit in his cross-examination that one Verumal had intervened in this dispute and the same had been compromised and that Ramratan had himself passed a receipt dated 7-12-1950 (See Ex. A-1) for the amount (for which the compromise had been effected) to Verumal and that all this had happened three years before the present complaint was filed.
Veerumal was examined as a defence witness and has proved this receipt, and Ramratan has himself admitted this receipt to be in his handwriting. This clearly shows that the petitioner has not hesitated to bring false charges against Shri Kalla so far as these two cases are concerned.
All this, however, properly suggests that we should be extremely cautious in scrutinising the complaint of the petitioner with respect to the remaining charge; but, at the same time we desire to say that if, on a careful scrutiny of the evidence produced by the petitioner Ramratan with respect to this charge, taken with the surrounding circumstances of the case, we are clearly led to a positive conclusion that Shri Kalla was undoubtedly guilty of professional misconduct in one or more of the respects alleged against him, then in our opinion, we should not hesitate to say so and in that event we would not be justified in absolving Shri Kalla of blame altogether or holding him blameworthy for mere negligence.
10. Let us then turn to the essential features of this part of the complaint in the light of the evidence produced in the case, and the available checks that must needs be applied to it.
11. (His Lordship then considered the evidence on the record, assessed its probative value and reached categorically the following conclusions, namely,--
(1) that Shri Kalla was certainly engaged by the petitioner long before June, 1950, to file a suit against Tarachand and Leelchand and that he delayed the filing of this suit until 2-6-1951, and thereby seriously jeopardised the interests of the petitioner;
(2) that the story of the purchase of stamps of the value of Rs. 75/- was quite false and that it was impossible to believe Shri Kalla's version that the plaint was filed in this case with full court-fee;
(3) that it was wrong to say that Rs. 757- were-given by Shri Kalla to his clerk for the purpose of purchasing court-fee stamps;
(4) the plaint was presented on a court-fee stamp of Rs. 5/- only and that the balance of Rs. 70/- paid by the petitioner to Shri Kalla for defraying the court-fees was improperly retained by him until 2-12-1953, when the deficiency was made-good by putting in an additional court-fee of Rs. 757- and that this was done by Shri Babalal brief holder for Shri Kalla obviously at the latter's instance and after the present complaint was filed in this Court on 28-10-1953.
(5) that Shri Kalla had acted with grave Impropriety in not filing a list of the documents along with the plaint nor the originals or even the copies of the documents referred to in the plaint in Court , and that these documents had been in all probability handed over to him in connection witn this case and that they were now not traceable; and
(6) that the signatures of Ramratan in the plaint and the Vakalatnama (Exs. 5 and 7) in Tara-chand's case were attended with a very grave suspicion. However, his Lordship observed: 'Still we would not be prepared to come to a positive finding on this aspect of the case to the effect that the signatures in dispute are not of Ramratan and we would leave the matter at that. As held by us in Amarsingh v. Madanmohan Lal, 1956 Raj LW 211; ((S) AIR 1956 Raj 58) (SB) (A), however grave the suspicion as regards the genuineness of these signatures may be, we feel that we should not base our finding on mere suspicion only and we hold accordingly, so far as this part of the charge is concerned'.)
12. We consider it necessary to point out at this juncture that where a litigant engages a member of the legal profession to conduct a case, broadly speaking, a relationship is brought about between them according to which the litigant legitimately expects in return for the remuneration paid that the lawyer whom he has so engaged, would carry outhis duties and obligations in connection with the case with the utmost of good faith and with all dueand reasonable diligence.
We do recognise that in performing certain routine duties a lawyer has to depend upon the services of his own staff such as his clerk or clerks, but we cannot too emphatically point out that it is the bounden duty of the lawyer to see that only such functions are assigned to his clerks as may legally be entrusted to them and no farther; and secondly, that even in those matters which have to be so entrusted to his clerks, he must exercise due care so that the interests of his client are duly safeguarded.
Where, however, the lawyer neglects to perform his lawful obligations himself and allows his clerk to overstep the due limits, or where owing to lack of due care and supervision in the management of his staff, the interests of his client are jeopardised, it can furnish no answer to the member of a monopolist profession like that of a lawyer, to say that he had entrusted a particular task to his clerk and therefore, he cannot be held personally responsible for professional misconduct in any particular matter arising out of such neglect.
Any other view, in our opinion, would, generally speaking, be productive consequences of the gravest character. We particularly feel that in the matter of the monies entrusted by a litigant to his counsel, it is the latter's special duty to see that such money is duly spent for the object for which it is given, and all expenditure incurred by him for and on behalf of his client out of such monies must be duly accounted for and we have no manner of doubt that the withholding of such monies or their misapplication would clearly amount to professional misconduct, the extent and severity of which must of course depend upon the circumstances of each case.
In all such matters we desire it to be clearly understood that a lawyer must act in an honest, upright and straightforward manner, and in the ultimate analysis, it is his personal responsibility so to act and he can disregard the performance of such duty only at his own peril.
13. Applying the above principles to this case before us, we are clearly of the opinion, for the reasons mentioned by us in the foregoing part of our judgment, that Shri Kalla in acting in the manner in which he has done, namely, -- that he kept the case of the petitioner in cold storage with him for an unreasonably long time after his engagement, and thereafter filed the plaint on deficient court-fee although he had been put in full funds, and that he improperly retained or allowed to be retained in his office money which was required to be spent for purchase of court-fee stamps until 2-12-1953, to the serious detriment of the petitioner, and that he failed to produce with the plaint originals or even copies of the documents referred to in the plaint and to all intents and purposes such documents are lost to the petitioner, -- is guilty not merely of simple negligence but of highly objectionable conduct amounting to professional misconduct.
14. The next question is what action we should direct to be taken against Shri Kalla. We know Shri Kalla is a lawyer of a long standing, and it is, therefore, the more regrettable that he should have allowed things to happen which cannot but reflect considerable discredit and which are subversive of all sound and correct traditions of the noble profession to which he has had the privilege to belong.
We have no hesitation in saying, however, that the interests of the litigating public as well as the interests of the profession demand that such practices wherever found must be dealt with in an appropriate manner, and we consider, having regard to all the relevant considerations and the standing of Shri Kalla, that he should be suspended frompractice for a period of two years from this date. We order accordingly.
15. Before closing we must also advert to an application filed by Shri Kalla on 4-9-1956, for a re hearing of this case on the ground that he is a patient of chronic asthma and his condition became acute on the 27th August and, therefore, he could not attend the hearing on the 28th August. We regret we are unable to accede to this request.
As already stated, this case was adjourned at Mr. Kalla's request from the 8th August to the 28th August. We feel that it was Mr. Kalla's duty to have arranged for a proper representation on his behalf at the hearing before us in good time before the 28th, but he obviously failed to realise this duty; and even the present application for rehearing was put in on the 4th September after the judgment had already been dictated and was ready.
We cannot help remarking that Shri Kalla has acted in a wholly irresponsible manner, and that we are not at all satisfied that even taking it for granted that an adjournment was unavoidably necessary as to the hearing on the 28th August, Shri Kaila or some body duly representing him could not have made a request to us for an adjournment at the hearing on the 28th August. Consequently, we see no adequate justification to reopen the case and hear it over again as sought by Shri Kalla and proceed to pronounce this judgment.