Saturday, March 13, 2010

Vicarious Liability of Directors U/s 141 of N.I Act,1881-Gui

Vicarious Liability of Directors U/s 141 of N.I Act,1881-Gui


Vicarious Liability of Directors U/s 141 of N.I Act,1881-Guidelines of Supreme Court
The Hon’ble Supreme Court in its recent judgment inNational Small Industries Corp. Ltd. Vs. Harmeet Singh Paintal and Anr., pronounced on 15.02.2010 has laid down guidelines to determine vicarious liability of directors of Company. The SC has significantly narrowed down the liability of directors. It was held that only those to be held responsible who were in charge of the conduct of business at that relevant time.
The Apex Court held that from the provisions of Section 141 NI Act, it is clear that that the persons who are sought to be made vicariously liable for a criminal offence under Section 141 should be, at the time the offence was committed, was in-charge of, and was responsible to the company for the conduct of the business of the company. Every person connected with the company shall not fall within the ambit of the provision. Only those persons who were in-charge of and responsible for the conduct of the business of the company at the time of commission of an offence will be liable for criminal action. It follows from the fact that if a Director of a Company who was not in- charge of and was not responsible for the conduct of the business of the company at the relevant time, will not be liable for a criminal offence under the provisions. The liability arises from being in-charge of and responsible for the conduct of the business of the company at the relevant time when the offence was committed and not on the basis of merely holding a designation or office in a company.
The Apex Court further observed that Section 141 is a penal provision creating vicarious liability, and which, as per settled law, must be strictly construed. It is therefore, not sufficient to make a bald cursory statement in a complaint that the Accused Director is in charge of and responsible to the company for the conduct of the business of the company without anything more as to the role of the Director.
But the complaint should spell out as to how and in what manner the accused director was in-charge of or was responsible to the accused company for the conduct of its business. This is in consonance with strict interpretation of penal statutes, especially, where such statutes create vicarious liability. A company may have a number of Directors and to make any or all the Directors as accused in a complaint merely on the basis of a statement that they are in-charge of and responsible for the conduct of the business of the company without anything more is not a sufficient or adequate fulfillment of the requirements under Section 141.
The Apex reiterated its own catena of decisions, in which it has held that for making Directors liable for the offences committed by the company under Section 141 of the Act, there must be specific averments against the Directors, showing as to how and in what manner the Directors were responsible for the conduct of the business of the company. The Supreme Court after reiterating its own judicial pronouncements in various decisions laid down the following principles:
(i) The primary responsibility is on the complainant to make specific averments as are required under the law in the complaint so as to make the accused vicariously liable. For fastening the criminal liability, there is no presumption that every Director knows about the transaction.
(ii) Section 141 does not make all the Directors liable for the offence. The criminal liability can be fastened only on those who, at the time of the commission of the offence, were in charge of and were responsible for the conduct of the business of the company.
(iii) Vicarious liability can be inferred against a company registered or incorporated under the CompaniesAct, 1956 only if the requisite statements, which are required to be averred in the complaint/petition, are made so as to make accused therein vicariously liable for offence committed by company along with averments in the petition containing that accused were in-charge of and responsible for the business of the company and by virtue of their position they are liable to be proceeded with.
(iv) Vicarious liability on the part of a person must be pleaded and proved and not inferred.
(v) If accused is Managing Director or Joint Managing Director then it is not necessary to make specific averment in the complaint and by virtue of their position they are liable to be proceeded with.
(vi) If accused is a Director or an Officer of a company who signed the cheques on behalf of the company then also it is not necessary to make specific averment in complaint.
(vii) The person sought to be made liable should be in- charge of and responsible for the conduct of the business of the company at the relevant time. This has to be averred as a fact as there is no deemed liability of a Director in such cases.
Source : Recent judgment of the Supreme Court in the case of National Small Industries Corp. Ltd. Vs. Harmeet Singh Paintal and Anr.

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