Candidate Accused Of Heinous Offence Can't Claim Right To Appointment When Acquittal Was On 'Benefit Of Doubt' : Supreme Court
In a significant ruling, the Supreme Court held that an acquittal in a criminal case does not automatically qualify a candidate for a sensitive law enforcement post, particularly when the acquittal is based on technical grounds or on giving benefit of doubt. The Court emphasized that employers retain the right to assess a candidate's suitability for a position. The issue before the Court...
In a significant ruling, the Supreme Court held that an acquittal in a criminal case does not automatically qualify a candidate for a sensitive law enforcement post, particularly when the acquittal is based on technical grounds or on giving benefit of doubt.
The Court emphasized that employers retain the right to assess a candidate's suitability for a position. The issue before the Court revolved around the determination of a candidate's fitness for appointment as a constable despite his prior acquittal in a criminal case under Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act,2012
The court observed “mere acquittal of the respondent in the criminal case would not automatically entitle him to being declared fit for appointment to the subject post. Even one criminal case faced by the respondent in which he was ultimately acquitted, apparently on the basis of being extended benefit of doubt, can make him unsuitable for appointment to the post of a Constable.”
The Court referred to Avtar Singh's case (2016) 8 SCC 471, which held that even in instances of acquittal in cases involving moral turpitude or serious offenses, employers have the choice to evaluate the candidate's antecedents and make informed decisions regarding their appointment.
It opined, “If acquittal had already been recorded in a case involving moral turpitude or offence of heinous/serious nature, on technical ground and it is not a case of clean acquittal or benefit of reasonable doubt has been given, the employer may consider all relevant facts available as to antecedents, and may take an appropriate decision as to the continuance of the employee. In a case where the employee has made a declaration truthfully of a concluded criminal case, the employer still has the right to consider antecedents, and cannot be compelled to appoint the candidate.”
The Supreme Court bench comprising Justices Hima Kohli and Justice Rajesh Bindal was hearing an appeal against a judgment by the division bench of the Madhya Pradesh High Court which had relegated the matter back to the competent authority for passing a fresh order in this case.
The case originated from allegations against the respondent, who was accused of stalking and attempting to befriend the complainant. In 2015, charges were filed against him for wrongful restraint and an attempt to outrage the modesty of the complainant, leading to charges under Section 341 and 354D of the Indian Penal Code, as well as Section 11D/12 of the POCSO Act. During the trial before a session judge, the complainant and witnesses turned hostile and reached a compromise, resulting in the respondent's acquittal.
In 2016, the respondent successfully qualified as a constable through state government exams. In 2017, the Superintendent of Police (appellant no. 3) requested the respondent to complete a verification form, where he disclosed information about the criminal case and his subsequent acquittal. Subsequently, the SP informed him that he was unfit for selection. Dissatisfied with this decision, the respondent filed a writ petition before the High Court, seeking reinstatement with all consequential benefits.
While the single bench initially dismissed his petition, the division bench later overturned this decision, remanding the matter back to the competent authority for reconsideration. This prompted the state government to approach the Supreme Court against the division bench's ruling.
The Court relied on the principles laid down in Avtar Singh’s case where it had emphasized the necessity of assessing a candidate's antecedents to determine their suitability for a given post.
It had observed“The verification of antecedents is necessary to find out the fitness of incumbent. What yardstick is to be applied has to depend upon the nature of the post, higher post would involve more rigorous criteria for all services, not only to uniformed service. For lower posts which are not sensitive, nature of duties, impact of suppression on suitability has to be considered by authorities concerned considering post/nature of duties/services and power has to be exercised on due consideration of various aspects”.
Applying the principles established in Avtar Singh's case to the matter at hand, the Court emphasized that even though the respondent had candidly disclosed the criminal case and secured an acquittal, the acquittal could not be deemed a "clean acquittal”.
It noted that, “This is a classic example of the situation contemplated in Avatar Singh’s case where the charges framed against the respondent herein involved moral turpitude. Here was a case where the complainant had reneged from the statement made to the police in view of a settlement arrived at with the respondent. Having regard to the fact that the prosecution could not succeed in proving the case against the respondent for the reasons noted hereinabove and further, being mindful of the fact that the case involved moral turpitude and the respondent was charged with non-compoundable offenses of a serious nature, we are of the firm view that the judgment of the trial Court cannot be treated as a clean acquittal.”
Therefore, the Court set aside the judgment of the division bench and upheld the decision of the single-judge bench. Accordingly, the appeal by the state government was allowed.
Case title: State of MP v. Bhupendra Yadav
Citation: 2023 LiveLaw (SC) 810; 2023 INSC 837