Former Union minister P Chidambaram's wife Nalini Chidambaram on Friday filed an appeal in the Madras High Court challenging its order dismissing her petition against Enforcement Directorate summons asking her to appear as a witness in its money laundering probe in the Saradha chit fund scam.
When the appeal by Nalini Chidambaram, a senior advocate, against the April 24 order of a single judge bench came up, vacation bench, comprising Justice V Bharathidasan and Justice N Seshasayee, said it would hear the matter tomorrow if time permits.
The matter pertains to the September 7, 2016, summons issued by the Enforcement Directorate directing Nalini Chidambaram to appear in person as a witness in the chit fund scam case over an alleged payment of a legal fee of Rs 1 crore to her by the Saradha group for her appearances in court and the Company Law Board over a television channel purchase deal.
Challenging the summons, she had moved the high court claiming protection from such appearance under section 160 of Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), as per which women and children cannot be summoned outside their place of residence for any inquiry.
Justice SM Subramaniam had dismissed her plea, holding that exemptions such as 160 CrPC were not mandatory and subject to facts and circumstances of a case.
He had also directed the Enforcement Directorate or ED to issue fresh summons, following which the agency had on April 30 issued the summons asking Nalini Chidambaram to appear before it on May 7.
In her appeal, Nalini Chidambaram alleged that it was an extremely dangerous trend whereby a premier investigating agency of the country has virtually unleashed a reign of terror by knowingly and deliberately subverting the process of law for wholly "malafide, extraneous and vexatious" considerations.
"If this trend of summoning and calling advocates who have been engaged by their clients for rendering professional services is not nipped in the bud, it may lead to disastrous consequences," she said.
A designated senior advocate need not file any 'vakalatnama' before any court under the Advocates Act or the Bar Council of India Rules and the appearance would be only on instructions of an advocate on record, Nalini Chidambaram said.
"It is an undisputed position that the information transmitted between a client and a lawyer in the course of that relationship and in confidence is privileged under law," she said, adding that even the professional fee invoices are sacrosanct and privileged.
She further said summoning a senior advocate in connection with the amounts received as professional fees would throw into jeopardy the entire profession of law and subject to risk of acceptance of professional's engagements by counsel to represent parties in such cases.
Submitting that she had acted only under professional capacity, Nalini Chidambaram alleged the reason behind issuing summons was only to create a situation in which she would be forced to withdraw from the proceedings.
She contended that the single judge had erred in classifying different categories of women falling under proviso 160 of CrPc and said his order was nothing but judicial overreach.
The appellant further said the single judge had not referred to a Supreme Court order, cited by her, which clearly held that the provisions of CrPC will apply if there were provisions under the PMLA which are inconsistent with the criminal procedure code.
This was "gross breach" of judicial discipline since under Article 141 of the Constitution, the law declared by the Supreme Court was binding on all courts, she submitted.
Nalini Chidambaram further said the single judge should not have issued directions to the ED to issue fresh summons while deciding the validity of the earlier summons.
The direction in the nature of mandamus was totally misconceived, she claimed and sought to set aside the order.