29 April 2023 8:08 AM GMT
“Putting a Judicial Officer to a departmental proceeding for a wrong order does not serve as a panacea for any ill which is being faced by the judiciary or for that matter any department of the Government. In fact, reckless proceeding only lowers the morale of the judiciary,” said the Patna High Court while granting relief to a woman judicial officer facing charges...
“Putting a Judicial Officer to a departmental proceeding for a wrong order does not serve as a panacea for any ill which is being faced by the judiciary or for that matter any department of the Government. In fact, reckless proceeding only lowers the morale of the judiciary,” said the Patna High Court while granting relief to a woman judicial officer facing charges of 'recklessness' in passing a judgement of acquittal.
While quashing major punishment of compulsory retirement imposed upon her, the division bench of Justices Ashutosh Kumar and Harish Kumar, directed its administration for her immediate reinstatement. The punishment was modified by directing for withholding of three increments of pay with cumulative effect.
“We do not subscribe to the view that if wrong judgments/orders are passed, there should be no disciplinary action, but such action should be initiated only if there is definite and pointed evidence that the wrong judgement/order has been passed for extraneous reasons and considerations and not because of the reasons which are available in the file of a case. Jumping to the conclusion of corruption and corrupt practice at every wrong judgement/order or unsustainable judgement/order that one comes across, is not going to serve the purpose,” the bench observed.
The petitioner had delivered a judgement on 26.08.2017 in a criminal matter to acquit the accused whose cheque worth Rs one lakh had bounced, while she was posted as a sub-judge-cum-additional chief judicial magistrate at Patna
Following a complaint filed against the acquittal order, a disciplinary investigation was launched against the judicial officer. The disciplinary authority found the officer's charges to be true and sentenced her to mandatory retirement.
The bench while considering the present matter was of the view that the judgement delivered by the petitioner misses out on certain basic facts even though the Officer had herself examined the prosecution witnesses and had exhibited the documents; however the bench also acknowledged that in order to accept the proposition that she was guided by unjust and extraneous considerations, especially in the absence of any evidence on record towards that effect, was difficult.
On a careful consideration of the totality of the circumstances, the bench was inclined to give benefit of doubt to the petitioner as a Judicial Officer, who might well have passed an order in a hurry.
The bench noted that many times, such orders reflect a motive of helping the accused which in turn could be without any unjust consideration, but that cannot be taken as the sole motivating factor in all cases where the judgments do not pass the test of constitutionality and legality, facts, law or otherwise.
The bench also noted that never in the past, the Petitioner had been charged with anything to be desired regarding her integrity, the bench observed that this was a solitary instance and not a repeated case of such unmerited acquittals.
While referring to it as a 'venial lapse,' the bench clarified that a Judicial Officer must guard against many such blunders while carrying out the judicial function, but it would be unjust to the Judicial Officer to be fired at such an early stage in service for a single act of recklessness.
The bench held, “We, therefore, are not in agreement with the final outcome of the departmental proceeding of the petitioner. The punishment awarded to her is much too harsh even for the recklessness having been exhibited by her as a Judicial Officer.”
While examining the issue from another angle, i.e., compulsory retirement, the bench opined that it is one of the major punishments provided under the Rules in a departmental proceeding in which fixing the quantum of punishment is within the discretion of the disciplinary authority. “However,” the bench further opined, “for such a decision to be sustained, the sentence should not be vindictive or unduly harsh. If the choice of sentence imposed on a proceeded is way disproportionate to the charge, such a decision could be questioned on grounds of proportionality, which by now has become an inherent part of the concept of judicial review.”
Mr. Piyush Lall, the appearing on behalf vehemently argued that it would be more appropriate that the matter is remanded to the disciplinary authority for revisiting the quantum of sentence which would be appropriate in the aforesaid case displaying anon-judicial approach while deciding a case even if it were a case involving lower quantum of money.
After having given anxious consideration over such suggestion, the bench held, “doing so would only be counter productive as the petitioner is a Judicial Officer, who would again be subjected to such rigours unnecessarily when there does not require any other evidence to prove that the judgement of acquittal was totally unmerited. To Prove that there was extraneous considerations behind such unmerited acquittal would require a revisit of the entire charge before a disciplinary authority, which is neither warranted nor necessary,as it was a solitary instance which has been reported.”
While allowing the writ petition, and setting aside the impugned decision, the bench directed the petitioner to be immediately inducted in the service. However, the bench also directed that the petitioner shall not be paid for the period that she remained out of service.
Case Title: Sangeeta Rani vs. The State of Bihar and Ors Civil Writ Jurisdiction Case No.5617 of 2022
Citation: 2023 LiveLaw (Pat) 39
For the Petitioner/s: Mr. Jitendra Singh, Sr. Advocate , Mr. Harsh Singh, Advocate
For the High Court: Mr. Piyush Lall, Advocate
For the State: Mr. Suman Kumar Jha, Advocate
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