Advocate Should Not Blindly Follow the Instructions of Clients If They Are Unethical, Illegal, or Contrary to the Principles of Justice: Rajasthan HC

It is certainly most reassuring to note that while according the paramount place to the ethical conduct for lawyers considered as the most noble profession, the Rajasthan High Court in a most learned, laudable, landmark, logical and latest judgment titled Simara Foods Pvt Ltd Vs State of Rajasthan in S.B. Criminal Miscellaneous Petition No. 4109/2023 and cited in Neutral Citation No.: 2024:RJ-JP:21592 that was finally pronounced on May 10, 2024 has minced just no words to hold in no uncertain terms that advocate should not blindly follow the instructions of clients if they are unethical, illegal or contrary to the principles of justice. We thus see here that the FIR was quashed that was registered at Police Station Banipark, Jaipur. We must note here that the case involved Simara Foods Pvt. Ltd, represented by its Director, Praveen Satpal Jain, and M/s MS MS Agri, with Mediator Pritesh Maheshwari who were embroiled in a commercial dispute.

 What must also be particularly noted is that the dispute originated from a complaint that was lodged under Section 156 (3) Cr.P.C which alleged fraudulent transactions and breach of trust. However, what we cannot afford to gloss over is that the court noted the absence of prior legal disputes between the parties during their longstanding business association which definitely casts a very serious doubt on the sudden criminal allegations. What is equally imperative to note is that the Court very rightly underscored the dire need for caution in exercising the court’s inherent powers under Section 482 Cr.P.C., urging the courts to prevent the misuse of criminal proceedings in commercial matters. It would be instructive to note that the court referred to various legal precedents, including (i). Sachin Garg v. State of U.P. and Anr. reported in 2024 (2) Supreme 73 (ii). Paramjeet Batra v. State of Uttarakhand, reported in (2013) 11 SCC 673 (iii). Mohd. Ibrahim & Ors. v. State of Bihar & Anr. reported in (2009) 8 SCC 751 (iv). In Dalip Kaur & Ors. Vs. Jagnar Singh & Anr. reported in (2009) 14 SCC 696 to substantiate its decision to quash the FIR. No doubt, these judgments clearly highlight the judiciary’s role in rightly ensuring that civil disputes are not unduly escalated into criminal matters and have been rightly cited in this leading judgment. At the very outset, this principled, pragmatic, pertinent, progressive and powerful judgment authored by the Single Judge Bench comprising of Hon’ble Mr Justice Anil Kumar Upman sets the ball in motion by first and foremost putting forth in para 1 that, “This misc. petition under Section 482 Cr.P.C. has been preferred on behalf of the accused petitioner seeking quashing of the FIR No.239/2022 registered at Police Station Banipark, Jaipur (West) for offences under Sections 409, 420, 468, 471 and 120B IPC.” To put things in perspective, the Bench envisages in para 2 that, “Brief facts in a nutshell are that the complainant-respondent No.2, submitted a complaint under Section 156 (3) Cr.P.C. before the Metropolitan Magistrate No.7, Jaipur Metro-II alleging inter alia that the petitioner induced him into delivering material against advanced payment by raising proforma invoices. It is alleged in the complaint that he paid advance amount but neither the petitioner supplied the material nor returned the advance amount to him. The complainant also alleged in the complaint that the petitioner made fraudulent entries in the books of accounts and usurped his money. The learned trial court sent the matter to the Police Station Banipark Jaipur for investigation whereupon the impugned FIR No.239/2022 came to be registered against the accused petitioner for offences under Sections 409, 420, 468, 471 and 120B IPC.”

As we see, the Bench notes in para 8 that, “From perusal of the Impugned FIR one fact is well established that the petitioner and the complainant have enjoyed a mutually beneficial business relationship for a significant period of time. Their association has been characterized by trust, cooperation, and a shared interest in maintaining a successful business venture. Perusal of the record clearly indicates that several business transactions took place in between the petitioner and the complainant from 2017 to 2022. The complainant in this FIR alleged that on 29.09.2017, he made advance payment of Rs.23,29,000/-, 25,00,000/- (total Rs.48,29,000/-) in favour of the petitioner, but neither the goods were supplied to him nor margin money was paid to him as the accused petitioner, with intention to cheat him, made forged invoices as the petitioner was not having any stock with him.”

 As it turned out, the Bench points out in para 9 that, “In my considered opinion, when the complainant has already experienced such a mischievous incident of cheating and fraud, said to be played by the petitioner with him, then as to why, he kept on continuing his business transactions for the next five-six years.”

Adding more to the point, the Bench notes in para 10 that, “The existence of such long-standing business relations raises questions regarding the credibility and motivation behind the complainant’s decision to initiate criminal proceedings against the petitioner. Throughout their business relationship, there have been no prior complaints or legal actions brought forth by either party against the other. This absence of any previous legal disputes further underscores the harmonious nature of their business association, casting doubt on the sudden emergence of criminal allegations. In cases involving long-standing business relations, it is not uncommon for one party to leverage the criminal justice system to gain an unfair advantage or to settle personal scores. In this particular case, it is evident from the balance sheet of the complainant’s firm that before registration of the FIR, numbers of orders to supply the goods were placed by both the parties to each other, which is evident from the material available on record.”

 Briefly stated, the Bench clearly states in para 11 that, “In such situations where business disputes arise, the Indian judiciary provides a robust framework for resolving conflicts through civil litigation. The complainant has the option to seek civil remedies such as damages, injunctions, or specific performance or to file suit to recover the dues, which are better suited to address commercial disputes rather than resorting to criminal prosecution. It is also to be noted here that parties were doing business through mediator and in respect of business disputes between the petitioner, complainant and mediator one criminal complaint was submitted before the EOW and same was thoroughly examined and finally it was found that essentially there is civil dispute between the parties.” Be it noted, the Bench notes in para 22 that, “Even cases where rendition of accounts is an important factor, there should be a strict bar to criminal remedy. It is a process that is quite common in businesses, criminalising such commercial offence will not only burden the courts but also halt several businesses. Section 482 Cr.P.C plays a vital role in ensuring no civil cases are turned into criminal cases. Inherent power of the High Courts allow them to quash any such cases which have been initiated due to malafide incidents. The Hon’ble Supreme Court in the famous case of State of Haryana & Ors. v. Bhajan Lal &Anr., 1992 Supp (1) SCC 335, stated that the case should be quashed “where a criminal proceeding is manifestly attended with malafide and/or where the proceeding is maliciously instituted with an ulterior motive for wreaking vengeance on the accused and with a view to spite him due to private and personal grudge.”” It is worth noting that the Bench notes in para 20 that, “India differentiates between criminal law and civil law by different statutes, different remedies and different punishments. There are multiple reasons as to why criminalisation of commercial disputes can be harmful to the legal system. Commercial disputes are often complex matters involving contractual agreements, business practices, and interpretations of trade laws and regulations. Resolving such disputes through criminal prosecution could lead to overly harsh punishments that may not fit the circumstances. Maintaining a clear separation between criminal law (designed to punish conduct that threatens public safety and welfare) and commercial law (designed to govern the fair conduct of business dealings) helps preserve the legitimacy and proper scope of each legal domain.” While citing a recent, relevant and remarkable case law, the Bench points out in para 21 that, “The Hon’ble Supreme Court has been extremely strict while dealing with such instances in the past. Recently, in the case of Govind Prasad Kejriwal Vs. State of Bihar & Anr, reported in (2020) 16 SCC 714, the Hon’ble Apex Court opined that it is indisputable that the magistrate must use a broad perspective and consider a prima facie case when conducting the investigation under Section 202 Cr.P.C. However, even when conducting or holding an inquiry under Section 202 Cr.P.C., the Magistrate is required to take into account a number of factors, including whether or not even a prima facie case is made out, whether or not the criminal proceedings that were initiated are an abuse of the legal system, whether or not the dispute is solely civil in nature, and whether or not the civil dispute is attempted to be given a criminal dispute colour.” It is worth applauding that the Bench underscores in para 23 stating that, “Need of the hour is to stop the inflow of frivolous criminal cases into the legal system. For this, the police should be advised to conduct preliminary enquiry into the case before filing an F.I.R. Advocates also simultaneously play an important role in preventing criminal frivolous litigation. A good advocate should never condone criminalisation of commercial matters. Courts should bring heavier sanctions against those who try and abuse the judicial system. Concluding, it is important to restore faith of citizens in civil remedies. Steps like speedier resolution of civil disputes, growth of arbitral tribunals, etc should be promoted.” Most remarkably and so also most significantly, the Bench propounds succinctly in para 24 what constitutes the cornerstone of this notable judgment postulating that, “Now a days, it has been noticed that tendency to convert civil wrongs into criminal offence is growing and people are intended to settle the civil or commercial dispute with the help of police as observed by the Hon’ble Apex Court in case of Mohammad Ibrahim (supra). Now time has come to deprecate this practice/tendency, and for this advocates as well as courts are required to be more vigilant. As an advocate serving the Indian judiciary, his primary duty is to represent his clients in court proceedings. This involves presenting their case, arguing on their behalf, and protecting their rights and interests. He must provide legal advice to your clients on various matters, including their rights, obligations, and potential legal consequences of their actions. This advice should be based on his legal expertise and knowledge of the relevant laws. Simultaneously he is expected to adhere to high ethical standards and professional conduct. This includes being honest, diligent, and respectful towards the court, opposing counsel, and all parties involved in the legal proceedings. He has a basic responsibility to uphold the rule of law and promote justice. This involves advocating for fair and equal treatment of all individuals, irrespective of their social status, and ensuring that the principles of justice are upheld in the legal system. As a lawyer serving the Indian judiciary, it is crucial to prioritize the interests of justice and uphold the principles of professional ethics. This means that an advocate should not blindly follow the instructions of clients if they are unethical, illegal, or contrary to the principles of justice. Advocates have a duty to act in the best interests of their clients, but this duty is subject to certain limitations. The Advocates Act, 1961, and the Bar Council of India Rules lay down the ethical guidelines that advocates must adhere to. These guidelines emphasize the importance of maintaining professional integrity, promoting justice, and upholding the rule of law. If a client’s instructions are in violation of these ethical guidelines or if they involve engaging in dishonest or unethical practices, it is the duty of the advocate to advise the client against such actions. Advocates are expected to provide honest and unbiased advice to their clients, even if it may not align with the client’s desired outcome. Furthermore, an advocate’s duty is not only towards their clients but also towards the court and the administration of justice. Advocates are officers of the court and have a responsibility to assist the court in reaching a just decision. This duty requires them to present the facts and arguments honestly and to refrain from misleading the court.” To put it differently, we must particularly note that the Bench mandates in para 25 postulating aptly that, “In summary, an advocate should not blindly follow the instructions of clients if they are unethical, illegal, or contrary to the principles of justice. Advocates have a duty to act in the best interests of justice and uphold the ethical standards set by the legal profession.” Most forthrightly, the Bench also unequivocally holds in para 26 that, “Simultaneously, Courts should not hesitate in quashing the criminal proceedings which are essentially arising out of civil or commercial disputes between the two parties as held by the Hon’ble Apex Court in case of Paramjeet Batra (supra) and Dalip Kaur (supra). Police stations can/should not be allowed to work as recovery agent or to make pressure upon one party of the litigation in the garb of criminal investigation to settle the civil disputes.” Further, the Bench hastens to add in para 27 stating that, “Lastly, before concluding this judgment, this Court, appreciates the witting efforts and valuable assistance rendered by learned counsel Mr. Kapil Gupta and Mr. Hemant Nahta.” Finally and far most forthrightly, the Bench concludes by directing in para 28 that, “In wake of the discussion made hereinabove, this Court deems it a fit case for exercising powers under Section 482 Cr.P.C. for quashing the impugned FIR and all other subsequent proceedings arising out of it as continuance of proceedings of the impugned FIR would amount to abuse of process of law. Accordingly, the FIR No.239/2022 registered at Police Station Banipark Jaipur and all other subsequent proceedings arising out of it, are hereby quashed.” In summary, an advocate is a leading officer of the court. It thus merits no reiteration whatsoever that he/she must behave most responsibly and should not be ever tempted by lure of money or any other material considerations and should always desist from blindly following the instructions of clients if they are unethical, illegal or contrary to the principles of justice. No denying or disputing it.

Sanjeev Sirohi,

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