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Supreme Court voids the suspension of an advocate punished by the Chhattisgarh Bar Council and Bar Council of India

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KAUSHAL KISHORE AWASTHI VERSUS BALWANT SINGH THAKUR & ANR.

CIVIL APPEAL NO. 15540 OF 2017

In the current case, the respondent, Balwant Thakur had filed a complaint against (the appellant) Kaushal Awasthi with the Bar Council of Chhattisgarh on December 19, 2003 alleging professional misconduct and seeking disciplinary action against him.

In December, 2006, a disciplinary committee was constituted and held Awasthi guilty of misconduct and suspended his license for two years. Awasthi then appealed this decision before the Bar Council of India (BCI), after which the BCI reduced the suspension to one year with a cost of Rs 25,000 (to be paid to the complainant).

However, the counsel for Aswathi appealing before the Supreme Court of India claimed that "even if the allegations are correct on face value, these do not amount to committing any misconduct as per the provisions of the Advocates Act and Rules."

Background

In 1989, Thakur was embroiled in a property dispute with his two brothers over ancestral property after the death of their father. He approached Awasthi to file a suit against one of his brothers’ attempt to fraudulently sell off the land. After the suit was filed, the parties settled the matter and requested the court to divide the property.

In October 1994, Thakur was declared the owner of 0.03 acres of land, and a kutcha house. The problem of the property dispute was thus resolved.

In 2003, Thakur attempted to sell his part of the land using the previous sale deed.  At this point, Awasthi produced an objection letter against the proposed sale deed and objected to the registration of the deed saying that the Thakur  did not have full ownership of the proposed land.

This angered Thakur who said that Awasthi was neither an interested party in the sale deed or the sale, nor was he authorised by any party to raise objection. The complainant then labelled Awasthi's move as professional misconduct and filed a complaint.

Thakur also said that in 1996 and again in 1999, Awasthi had lent him and his son a total of Rs 40,000. Thakur had then offered half of his share of the land as security for the repayment of the amount. Now, Thakur said, Awasthi was objecting to the sale of the land as his debt had not been cleared.

In the Supreme Court, Awasthi's counsel contended that even if Thakur’s claims were correct, Awasthi had not acted as an advocate, and therefore, his actions could not amount to committing misconduct. The counsel quoted Rule 22 under Chapter II of the Standards of Professional Conduct and Etiquette framed by the BCI and Section 35 of the Advocates Act, 1961 to support their contention.

Rule 22 proscribes an advocate from bidding or purchasing any property sold in the execution of a decree or order in any legal proceedings he was engaged in. However, in the current case, the said property was not being sold in the execution of any decree -- therefore, when Awasthi objected to the sale, he was not participating in the process in the capacity of an advocate.

The Supreme Court, after a reading of the case, said that "this act has nothing to do with the professional conduct of the appellant. Therefore, the very initiation of disciplinary proceedings against the appellant by the State Bar Council was improper and without jurisdiction."

Thus, the court set aside the orders issued by the Bar Council of India.

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HRLN is a division of the Socio-Legal Information Centre (SLIC). SLIC is a non-profit legal aid and educational organization, registered under the Registration of Societies Act, 1860, Indian Public Trust Act, 1950 and the Foreign Contributions (Regulation) Act, 1976.