At a recent talk we gave at the premier financial institution of North East India, we had occasion to mention some legal 'believe it or not 'facts. One that turned a few heads was 'Genuine Mistake of Counsel'.
It was our legal mentor TVS Rao who brought to our notice this interesting phenomenon. That a genuine mistake of a brother legal practitioner is looked upon by the top Courts with indulgence. The case TVSR mentioned was about time-barred debt, but we could not get that reference. But here is another interesting one in which the Supreme Court reinstates a time-barred Insurance Claim on ground of mistake of counsel:
The case is Concord of Indian Insurance Companies Ltd. vs Nirmala Devi and Others decided by the Supreme Court on 16.04.1979. The Accident Claims Tribunal had pronounced its verdict on 15th September 1976 and appeal , if any, had to be preferred by 19th January 1977 but the filing was delayed by 30 days, due to a mistake by the petitioners' counsel, in computing the date of limitation. The petitioners had made two prayers, one for restitution of the case and second, for the quantum of compensation.
The High Court had earlier held that a lawyer's ignorance was no ground for condonation of delay. The matter ultimately reached the Supreme Court, and the Honourable Court held that a legal advice honestly sought and actually given without any malafide intent or element of recklessness was ground for condonation of delay. Quoting another judgement, the SC said
" The law is settled that mistake of counsel may in certain circumstances be taken into account in condoning delay although there is no general proposition that mistake of counsel is by itself always a sufficient ground. It is always the question whether the mistake was bonafide or merely a device to cover an ulterior purpose such laches on part of the litigant or an attempt to save limitation in an underhand way.
"I am of the view that legal advice given by a member of the legal profession can go wrong even as pronouncements on the question of law by Courts sometimes go wrong...to err is human and lay men such as litigants are, may legitimately lean on expert counsel.."
For my credit analyst friends, the lesson is that for a bonafide mistake in any field, be it law or commerce, there is always succor from senior practitioners and senior colleagues. A blow against 'staff accountability'. Amen...