The Madras High Court today restrained an advocate of a city-based law firm engaged by the Adani Group of Gujarat from disclosing professional communication sent to him in connection with the company’s proposed purchase of land for a multi-crore power project in Ramanathapuram District in Tamil Nadu.
Issuing the interim order, valid till March 14, on a suit by the Adani Green Energy (Tamil Nadu) Ltd, Justice K K Sasidharan issued notice to advocate Kabilan Manoharan, who the company alleged was ‘blackmailing’ it demanding higher fees.
The company has moved the court alleging the lawyer had been issuing threats to it that he would expose “infractions” committed by its officials and those funding the project and names of various institutions involved in the multi-crore venture if it did not pay him the increased fee of around Rs 1.43 crore demanded by him for his professional work.
The applicant submitted it has engaged the lawyer to verify the title deeds of thousands of acres of land proposed to be purchased for the solar project with a view to avoid possible litigation in future.
As per the agreement executed by them with the advocate, it had been agreed to pay Rs 6,000 per acre to him in three stages as fees and so far paid him a sum of Rs 70 lakh.
However, the advocate increased his fees from Rs 6,000 per acre to Rs 15,000 and through a letter January 4, last letter called upon them to pay the revised fee. Subsequently, he demanded a further payment of Rs 1,43,16,840, it said.
Thereafter, he sent two more letters by e-mail in January threatening the Company that he would expose the ‘infractions’ committed by its officials and those funding the project and names of various institutions involved in the project.
Even though the company through its January 19 reply informed him that it had not indulged in any kind of acts or omissions, which would constitute fraud, he continued with his threat through a series of letters, the company submitted.
In the latest communication sent by email on February 16, he had said he would expose the applicants, in case the matter is not settledwithin seven days, following which the company has filed the present suit and application.
After hearing arguments on behalf of the company, Justice Sasidharan said Section 126 of the Evidence Act is a bar for disclosing information received by the lawyer from his clients in the course of and for the purpose of his employment as a lawyer. There is an exception to the proviso that under certain circumstances, the lawyer owes a duty to disclose such information in the interest of society.
The Judge said the question whether the information to be
published would qualify for disclosure within the meaning of the proviso to section 126 of Evidence Act cannot be decided at this point of time, in the absence of the Advocate.
“The lawyer is not contending that it is his professional obligation to inform the authorities about certain criminal acts committed by his client but calling upon his client to pay a sum of Rs 1,43,16,840 towards his fees and only in case of failure to pay the amount within seven days, he threatened to expose them,” the Judge said.
In case the advocate in the course of his engagement found certain acts within the meaning of the proviso to Section 126 of Evidence Act, he should have taken appropriate action against the applicants.
“Here, he is threatening to expose only to collect his fees, claimed by way of unilaterally enhancing the rate per acre. I am therefore of the view that the applicants have made out a prima facie case for injunction,” the Judge said.
The Adani Group is, therefore, primafaciecorrect in its contention that the act would amount to blackmailing, the Judge said and granted the injunction.
“There shall be an order of interim injunction restraining the advocate from disclosing in any manner the professional communication made to him by the company,” the order said.
( Source – PTI )