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Three advocates who had filed duplicate insurance claims for the same motor accident case were recently suspended from practice for a five-year term by a disciplinary committee of the Bar Council of Tamil Nadu and Puducherry (TN Bar council). The three advocates are A Raveendran, A Jeyakumar and M Murugan.
Their transgressions had initially come to light last year when the insurance company approached the Madras High Court. The case eventually prompted Justice PN Prakash to take up the issue of duplicate motor accident insurance claims rampant in the motor case original petition (MCOP) field.
While dealing with the matter, Justice Prakash had also ordered the TN Bar Council to initiate disciplinary action against three advocates found to be involved in the racket.
Accordingly, a TN Bar Council disciplinary committee comprising Chairman, R Singaravelan and Members S Ilamvaluthi and Ravi Shanmugam ordered notice to the three advocates, as well as one, S Stephen, who had handed over the case brief to the three advocates.
The hearing unearthed a lurid tale involving unofficial tip-offs by police officers, an unqualified middleman and advocates who were clueless that they were handling a case brief that was already being held by others. Amidst all of this, the original claimants were found to have never met any of the advocates handling their case.
The TN Bar Council was apprised that the “Kingpin” behind the whole affair, Stephen was accustomed to having motor accident insurance cases referred to him by the police as and when they occurred.
Stephen had admitted that he was neither an advocate nor an advocate clerk. As submitted before the Madras High Court as well as the TN Bar Council, Stephen was an 8th-grade pass who used to work as a clerk with an Advocate. However, he later left the job for health reasons.
After leaving this position, he went on to become a middleman of sorts when it came to filing motor accident insurance claims. Stephen told the TN Bar Council that he would be contacted by the police after motor accidents. The police would then entrust him cases, along with the vehicle number, so that he could then engage an advocate of his choice. In his affidavit before the High Court, Stephen also mentioned that he had been doing such work for about a year.
The same routine was found to have been followed in the immediate case before the TN Bar Council committee. After one Mohan passed away in a motor accident, Stephen was tipped off by the police officers concerned. Stephen then contacted the son of the deceased, posing as an advocate. To this end, he also furnished a visiting card under the name of “Advocate Suryaprakashan“.
After obtaining the son’s signature, he then handed over the case brief to the three advocates. The three advocates in turn, without having met the claimants or conducting any further verification, blindly filed three separate MCOP cases on behalf of the two sons of the deceased and the wife of the deceased (claimants). It was also noted that at no point was the vehicle which caused the accident actually identified to make a proper claim.
During the hearing before the committee, the son of the deceased also deposed that he had never met any of the advocates who had actually filed the MCOP claims on his behalf. Rather, he informed that Stephen had obtained his signature on the MCOP petition and a vakalat, which at the time of signing, had several blank entries. The son also personally identified Stephen during the committee hearing, as the person who had obtained his signature.
In this factual backdrop, the committee framed the charge against the three advocates as follows,
“That without even seeing the claimants, you, the Respondents 1 to 3 have filed 3 MCOPs for the same accident by involving the vehicle not involved in the accident as per the instructions of the tout CW 2 and thus…committed professional misconduct.”
TN Bar Council Ruling
The conduct of all three advocates was found to be in square violation of several Bar Council of India (BCI) Rules. In particular, Rules 14, 19 and 24 of Section II, Chapter II, Part VI were referred to, apart from Rule 4 of Section I and Rule 39 of Section IV.
These Rules deal with an advocate’s duty towards his client, to the Court and his colleagues.
Notably, Rule 19 specifically lays down that
“An Advocate shall not act on the instructions of any person other than his client or his authorized agent.”
In view of these Rules, the TN Bar Council concluded that the advocates were liable to be penalised for professional misconduct. It held,
“…it is manifestly clear that all the three advocates…have thrown the Rules framed by the Bar Council of India and the confidence reposed by the courts on them to the wine and filed a claim case out and out as per the instructions of a tout who is CW 2 [Stephen]. Thus we have no hesitation to hold that they have committed professional misconduct by filing claim petitions without even verifying the truth of the claim made by the on behalf of the alleged claimants and without getting any instructions from them.
… we hold that the Respondents 1 to 3 have committed a grave professional misconduct and are liable to be punished severely by this forum which alone would deter other advocates from resorting to this type of filing claim petitions in collusion with the police officials and the hospital workers…
… The very filing of cases by the Respondents 1 to 3 as per the instructions of CW2 would sufficiently proved that they are closely aware of the activities of CW2 and it is unfortunate to note that they have filed cases as per his instructions just for money. The very filing of cases as per the instructions of CW2 itself is a professional misconduct and the Respondents are liable to be punished on that count also.“
For their misconduct, all three advocates were suspended from practice for a five-year term. However, the committee also held that if the errant advocates were to pay an amount of Rs 3 lakhs to the claimants within 2 weeks, the suspension order would be reduced to 6 months
Suggestions to reform MCOP field
While passing the order, the committee also proposed certain remedial measures to reform the conduct of motor accident insurance cases, at the stage of investigation as well as during adjudication. The measures so proposed include the following.
Read the order below.