What is the meaning of “Office”

The meaning to the word office’ given in the Statesman (P) Ltd. vs. H. R. Deb, AIR 1968 SC 1495. In the Statesman case, AIR 1968 SC 1495 this Court approved of the observations of Lord Wright in Macmillan vs. Guest, 1942 AC 561 to the following effect:

“The word “office” is of indefinite content. Its various meanings cover four columns of the New English Dictionary, but I take as the most relevant for purpose of this case the following:

“A position or place to which certain duties are attached, especially one of a more or less public character.”

It seems to us that in the context Justice Rowlatt’s definition in (1922) 8 Tax Cas 231 is the appropriate meaning to be applied to word ‘office’ in Article 191 of the Constitution.

Justice Rowlat observed at page No. 235:-

“Now it is argued, and to my mind argued most forcibly, that that shows that what those who use the language of the Act of 1842 meant, when they spoke of an office or an employment, was an office or employment which was a subsisting, permanent, substantive position, which had an existence independent from the person who filled it, which went on and was filled in succession by successive holders; and if you merely had a man who was engaged on whatever terms, to do duties which were assigned to him, his employment to do those duties did not create an office to which those duties were attached. He merely was employed to do certain things and that is an end of it; and if there was no office or employment existing in the case as a thing, the so-called office or employment was merely an aggregate of the activities of the particular man for the time being. And I think myself that that is sound. I am not going to decide that, because I think I ought not to in the state of the authorities, but my own view is that the people in 1842 who used this language meant by an office a substantive thing that existed apart from the holder.”

This definition was approved by Lord Atkinson at page 246.

29. This language was accepted as generally sufficient by Lord Atkin and Lord Writ in Mcmillan vs. Guest (H. M. Inspector of Taxes), (1943) 24 Tax Cas 190 Lord Atkin observed at page No. 201:-

“There is no statutory definition of “office”. Without adopting the sentence as a complete definition, one may treat the following expression of Rowlatt, J. in Great Western Rly. Co. vs. Bater, (1920) 3 KB 266 at page No. 274, adopted by Lord Atkinson in that case, (1922) 2 AC 1 at page No. 15, as a generally sufficient statement of the meaning of the word:

“an office or employment which was a subsisting, permanent, substantive position, which had an existence independent of the person who filled it, which went on and was filled in succession by successive holders.” Lord Wright at page No. 202 observed:

“The word “office” is of indefinite content; its various meanings cover four columns of the New English Dictionary, but I take as the most relevant for purposes of this case the following:

“A position or place to which certain “duties are attached, especially one of a more or less public character.” This, I think, roughly corresponds with such approaches to a definition as have been attempted in the authorities, in particular (1922) 2 AC 1, ……. …….. where the legal construction of these words, which had been in Schedule E since 1803 (43 Geo. III, c. 122, Section 175), was discussed.” 30. In Civil Appeal No. 1832 of 1967, D/- 15-10-1968 (SC) Mitter, J. speaking for this Court, quoted with approval the definition of Lord Wright. In our view there is no essential difference between the definitions given by Lord Wright and Lord Atkin. The Court of Appeal in the case of Mitchell vs. Ross, (1960) 2 All ER 218 at pages 225-226 thought that both the noble and learned Lords had accepted the language employed by Rowlatt, J. as generally sufficient. In Mahadeo’s case, Civil Appeal no. 1832 of 1967, D/- 15-10-1968 (SC) (supra) this Court was dealing with a panel of lawyers maintained by the Railway Administration and the lawyer were expected to watch cases. Clause (13) of the terms in that case read as follows:-

“You will be expected to watch cases coming up for hearing against this Railway in the various courts at UJB and give timely intimation of the same to this office. If no instructions regarding any particular case are received by you, you will be expected to appear in the court and obtain an adjournment to save the ex parte proceedings against this Railway in the Court. You will be paid ` 5 for every such adjournment if you are not entrusted with the conduct of the suit later on.”

31. That case in no way militates against the view which we have taken in this case. That case is more like the case of a standing counsel disqualified by the House of Commons. It is stated in Rogers on Elections, Vol. II, at page 10:-

“However in the Cambridge case (121 Journ. 220), in 1866, the return of Mr. Forsyth was avoided on the ground that he held a new office of profit under the Crown, within the 24th Section. In the scheme submitted to and approved by Her Majesty in Council was inserted the office of standing counsel with a certain yearly payment (in the scheme called “salary”) affixed to it, which Mr. Forsyth received, in addition to the usual fees of counsel. The Committee avoided the return …..”