Scope of power of attorney in Criminal Prosecution

Criminal Complaints through a Power of Attorney

The complaint in this case was a summary complaint under section 138 of Negotiable Instruments Act, 1888.

Whether a Power of Attorney holder can sign and file a complaint petition on behalf of the complainant ?

Supreme Court has answered the question in affirmative but subject to a few riders. The attorney acts as an agent of the complainant and therefore has to act in the name of principal:

“The power of attorney holder is the agent of the grantor. When the grantor authorizes the attorney holder to initiate legal proceedings and the attorney holder accordingly initiates such legal proceedings, he does so as the agent of the grantor and the initiation is by the grantor represented by his attorney holder and not by the attorney holder in his personal capacity. Therefore, where the payee is a proprietary concern, the complaint can be filed by the proprietor of the proprietary concern, describing himself as the sole proprietor of the payee, the proprietary concern, describing itself as a sole proprietary concern, represented by its sole proprietor, and the proprietor or the proprietary concern represented by the attorney holder under a power of attorney executed by the sole proprietor. However, we make it clear that the power of attorney holder cannot file a complaint in his own name as if he was the complainant. In other words, he can initiate criminal proceedings on behalf of the principal.”

Necessity of personal knowledge of attorney

It was argued before the court that the verification affidavit made by the constituted attorney is not on the basis of the personal knowledge and hence, it would squarely fall within the ambit of hearsay evidence and cannot be read in evidence in a court of law and raised various other contentions touching upon the competency of the Power of Attorney Holder to institute criminal cases. But the Court held that

“From a conjoint reading of Sections 138, 142 and 145 of the N.I. Act as well as Section 200 of the Code, it is clear that it is open to the Magistrate to issue process on the basis of the contents of the complaint, documents in support thereof and the affidavit submitted by the complainant in support of the complaint. Once the complainant files an affidavit in support of the complaint before issuance of the process under Section 200 of the Code, it is thereafter open to the Magistrate, if he thinks fit, to call upon the complainant to remain present and to examine him as to the facts contained in the affidavit submitted by the complainant in support of his complaint. However, it is a matter of discretion and the Magistrate is not bound to call upon the complainant to remain present before the Court and to examine him upon oath for taking decision whether or not to issue process on the complaint under Section 138 of the N.I. Act. For the purpose of issuing process under Section 200 of the Code, it is open to the Magistrate to rely upon the verification in the form of affidavit filed by the complainant in support of the complaint under Section 138 of the N.I. Act. It is only if and where the Magistrate, after considering the complaint under Section 138 of the N.I. Act, documents produced in support thereof and the verification in the form of affidavit of the complainant, is of the view that examination of the complainant or his witness(s) is required, the Magistrate may call upon the complainant to remain present before the Court and examine the complainant and/or his witness upon oath for taking a decision whether or not to issue process on the complaint under Section 138 of the N.I. Act”

While holding the view that the power of attorney holder can be allowed to file, appear and depose for the purpose of issue of process for the offence punishable under Section 138 of the N.I. Act, the court has laid down specific conditions to be followed in such cases:-

“(i) Filing of complaint petition under Section 138 of N.I Act through power of attorney is perfectly legal and competent.

(ii) The Power of Attorney holder can depose and verify on oath before the Court in order to prove the contents of the complaint. However, the power of attorney holder must have witnessed the transaction as an agent of the payee/holder in due course or possess due knowledge regarding the said transactions.

(iii) It is required by the complainant to make specific assertion as to the knowledge of the power of attorney holder in the said transaction explicitly in the complaint and the power of attorney holder who has no knowledge regarding the transactions cannot be examined as a witness in the case.

(iv) In the light of section 145 of N.I Act, it is open to the Magistrate to rely upon the verification in the form of affidavit filed by the complainant in support of the complaint under Section 138 of the N.I Act and the Magistrate is neither mandatorily obliged to call upon the complainant to remain present before the Court, nor to examine the complainant of his witness upon oath for taking the decision whether or not to issue process on the complaint under Section 138 of the N.I. Act.

(v) The functions under the general power of attorney cannot be delegated to another person without specific clause permitting the same in the power of attorney. Nevertheless, the general power of attorney itself can be cancelled and be given to another person.

Source: A.C. Narayanan vs State of Maharashtra {SC}

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