Validity of demand notice by lawyer:
Whether a demand notice of an unpaid operational debt can be issued by a lawyer on behalf of the operational creditor?
5. Demand notice by operational creditor.— (1) An operational creditor shall deliver to the corporate debtor, the following documents, namely.-
(a) a demand notice in Form 3; or
(b) a copy of an invoice attached with a notice in Form 4.
(2) The demand notice or the copy of the invoice demanding payment referred to in sub-section (2) of section 8 of the Code, may be delivered to the corporate debtor,
(a) at the registered office by hand, registered post or speed post with acknowledgement due; or
(b) by electronic mail service to a whole time director or designated partner or key managerial personnel, if any, of the corporate debtor. (3) A copy of demand notice or invoice demanding payment served under this rule by an operational creditor shall also be filed with an information utility, if any.
6. Application by operational creditor.— (1) An operational creditor, shall make an application for initiating the corporate insolvency resolution process against a corporate debtor under section 9 of the Code in Form 5, accompanied with documents and records required therein and as specified in the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Board of India (Insolvency Resolution Process for Corporate Persons) Regulations, 2016.
(2) The applicant under sub-rule (1) shall dispatch forthwith, a copy of the application filed with the Adjudicating Authority, by registered post or speed post to the registered office of the corporate debtor.
That Section 7 qua financial creditors has a process which is different from that of operational creditors under Sections 8 and 9 of the Code. The fact that there is no requirement of a bank certificate under Section 7 of the Code, as compared to Section 9, does not take us very much further. The difference between Sections 7 and 9 has already been noticed by this Court in Innoventive Industries Ltd. v. ICICI Bank & Anr., Civil Appeal Nos. 8337-8338 of 2017 decided on August 31, 2017, as follows:-
“29. The scheme of Section 7 stands in contrast with the scheme under Section 8 where an operational creditor is, on the occurrence of a default, to first deliver a demand notice of the unpaid debt to the operational debtor in the manner provided in Section 8(1) of the Code. Under Section 8(2), the corporate debtor can, within a period of 10 days of receipt of the demand notice or copy of the invoice mentioned in subsection (1), bring to the notice of the operational creditor the existence of a dispute or the record of the pendency of a suit or arbitration proceedings, which is pre-existing – i.e. before such notice or invoice was received by the corporate debtor. The moment there is existence of such a dispute, the operational creditor gets out of the clutches of the Code.
30. On the other hand, as we have seen, in the case of a corporate debtor who commits a default of a financial debt, the adjudicating authority has merely to see the records of the information utility or other evidence produced by the financial creditor to satisfy itself that a default has occurred. It is of no matter that the debt is disputed so long as the debt is “due” i.e. payable unless interdicted by some law or has not yet become due in the sense that it is payable at some future date. It is only when this is proved to the satisfaction of the adjudicating authority that the adjudicating authority may reject an application and not otherwise.”
Section 8 of the Code speaks of an operational creditor delivering a demand notice. It is clear that had the legislature wished to restrict such demand notice being sent by the operational creditor himself, the expression used would perhaps have been “issued” and not “delivered”. Delivery, therefore, would postulate that such notice could be made by an authorized agent. In fact, in Forms 3 and 5 extracted hereinabove, it is clear that this is the understanding of the draftsman of the Adjudicatory Authority Rules, because the signature of the person “authorized to act” on behalf of the operational creditor must be appended to both the demand notice as well as the application under Section 9 of the Code. The position further becomes clear that both forms require such authorized agent to state his position with or in relation to the operational creditor. A position with the operational creditor would perhaps be a position in the company or firm of the operational creditor, but the expression “in relation to” is significant. It is a very wide expression, as has been held in Renusagar Power Co. Ltd. v. General Electric Co., (1984) 4 SCC 679 at 704 and State of Karnataka v. Azad Coach Builders (P) Ltd. (2010) 9 SCC 524 at 535, which specifically includes a position which is outside or indirectly related to the operational creditor. It is clear, therefore, that both the expression “authorized to act” and “position in relation to the operational creditor” go to show that an authorized agent or a lawyer acting on behalf of his client is included within the aforesaid expression.
Quite apart from the above, Section 30 of the Advocates Act states as follows:
“Right of advocates to practise.—Subject to provisions of this Act, every advocate whose name is entered in the State roll shall be entitled as of right to practise throughout the territories to which this Act extends,
(i) in all courts including the Supreme Court;
(ii) before any tribunal or person legally authorised to take evidence; and
(iii) before any other authority or person before whom such advocate is by or under any law for the time being in force entitled to practise.”
That the expression “practise” is an expression of extremely wide import, and would include all preparatory steps leading to the filing of an application before a Tribunal. This is clear from a Constitution Bench judgment of this Court in Harish Uppal (Ex-Capt.) v. Union of India, (2003) 2 SCC 45 at 72, which states:
“The right of the advocate to practise envelopes a lot of acts to be performed by him in discharge of his professional duties. Apart from appearing in the courts he can be consulted by his clients, he can give his legal opinion whenever sought for, he can draft instruments, pleadings, affidavits or any other documents, he can participate in any conference involving legal discussions, he can work in any office or firm as a legal officer, he can appear for clients before an arbitrator or arbitrators etc.”
The doctrine of harmonious construction of a statute extends also to a harmonious construction of all statutes made by Parliament.
In Byram Pestonji Gariwala v. Union Bank of India, (1992) 1 SCC 31 at 47-48. In this judgment, what fell for consideration was Order XXIII Rule 3 of the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 after its amendment in 1976. It was argued in that case that a compromise in a suit had, under Order XXIII Rule 3, to be in writing and “signed by the parties”. It was, therefore, argued that a compromise effected by counsel on behalf of his client would not be effective in law, unless the party himself signed the compromise. This was turned down stating that Courts in India have consistently recognized the traditional role of lawyers and the extent and nature of the implied authority to act on behalf of their clients, which included compromising matters on behalf of their clients. The Court held there is no reason to assume that the legislature intended to curtail such implied authority of counsel. It then went on to hold:
“38. Considering the traditionally recognised role of counsel in the common law system, and the evil sought to be remedied by Parliament by the C.P.C. (Amendment) Act, 1976, namely, attainment of certainty and expeditious disposal of cases by reducing the terms of compromise to writing signed by the parties, and allowing the compromise decree to comprehend even matters falling outside the subject matter of the suit, but relating to the parties, the legislature cannot, in the absence of express words to such effect, be presumed to have disallowed the parties to enter into a compromise by counsel in their cause or by their duly authorised agents. Any such presumption would be inconsistent with the legislative object of attaining quick reduction of arrears in court by elimination of uncertainties and enlargement of the scope of compromise.
To insist upon the party himself personally signing the agreement or compromise would often cause undue delay, loss and inconvenience, especially in the case of non-resident persons. It has always been universally understood that a party can always act by his duly authorised representative. If a power-of-attorney holder can enter into an agreement or compromise on behalf of his principal, so can counsel, possessed of the requisite authorisation by vakalatnama, act on behalf of his client. Not to recognise such capacity is not only to cause much inconvenience and loss to the parties personally, but also to delay the progress of proceedings in court. If the legislature had intended to make such a fundamental change, even at the risk of delay, inconvenience and needless expenditure, it would have expressly so stated.
Accordingly, we are of the view that the words ‘in writing and signed by the parties’, inserted by the C.P.C. (Amendment) Act, 1976, must necessarily mean, to borrow the language of Order III Rule 1 CPC:
“any appearance, application or act in or to any court, required or authorized by law to be made or done by a party in such court, may except where otherwise expressly provided by any law for the time being in force, be made or done by the party in person, or by his recognized agent, or by a pleader, appearing, applying or acting as the case may be, on his behalf:
Provided that any such appearance shall, if the court so directs, be made by the party in person.”
Just as has been held in Gariwala (supra), the expression “an operational creditor may on the occurrence of a default deliver a demand notice…..” under Section 8 of the Code must be read as including an operational creditor’s authorized agent and lawyer, as has been fleshed out in Forms 3 and 5 appended to the Adjudicatory Authority Rules.
For all these reasons, we are of the view that the NCLAT judgment has to be set aside on both counts. Inasmuch as the two threshold bars to the applications filed under Section 9 have now been removed by us, the NCLAT will proceed further with these matters under the Code on a remand of these matters to it.
[Source: Macquarie Bank Limited vs Shilpi Cable Technologies Ltd, decided by SC on 15 December, 2017]