Should Probationary Judicial Officers Be Suspended Over Liquor Brawl? Allahabad HC DB Delivers Split Verdict [Read Judgment]

Should Probationary Judicial Officers Be Suspended Over Liquor Brawl? Allahabad HC DB Delivers Split Verdict [Read Judgment]

A Division bench of the Allahabad High Court has delivered a split verdict on the question of discharge simpliciter of fifteen probationary judicial officers, who were removed in 2014 for being involved in a drunken brawl at a local resort.

While Justice SS Chauhan opined that the officers being young and inexperienced, should’ve been given another chance, Justice Rajnish Kumar upheld the discharge order. The matter has therefore been referred to the Chief Justice for the nomination of a bench to adjudicate on the same.

Factual matrix

The fifteen petitioners were appointed as Civil Judges (Junior Division) in May, 2013, and were on a probation for a period of two years. While they were posted in different districts in the State of Uttar Pradesh, an induction training programme was organised for them at Judicial Training and Research Institute, Lucknow from 9 June, 2014 to 8 September, 2014.

A day before their training was supposed to end, the petitioners went out for dinner, but  ended up engaging in a drunken brawl at a local resort. Repercussions followed soon, with the then Chief Justice of Allahabad High Court, Justice D Y Chandrachud seeking a report and directing the matter to be taken up by the Full Court.

The Full Court then resolved to discharge the petitioners from service, citing Rule 24(4) of the U.P. Judicial Service Rules, 2001, which allows the Court to recommend discharge of probationers if it feels that the “probationer has not made sufficient use of his opportunities or has otherwise failed to give satisfaction”.

The petitioners had now challenged this order, contending inter alia that it was passed without providing them an opportunity of being heard, and that the order was “stigmatic and punitive” as it debars them from joining such services in the future.

Conduct of judicial officers goes beyond the door of the courtroom: Justice Kumar’s opinion

Justice Kumar upheld the impugned order, opining that the “behaviour and conduct of the petitioners in the Club, which was a public place, was unbecoming of Judicial Officers”. He began by emphasizing the need for judges to maintain high standards of conduct, observing,

“Once a person has been appointed as a Judge, he must accept restrictions on his/ her conduct and behaviour which would be viewed as burdensome and onerous by an ordinary citizen. He is required to maintain high standards of conduct. A judge has to act at all times in a manner which upholds and promotes the good name, dignity and esteem of the office of a judicial officer and administration of justice. 

It is an established fact that the conduct of a judicial officer does not end at the door of the courtroom, it goes beyond it. Increased media attention, public awareness and public scrutiny allows very little privacy and the behaviour of judges even in their private capacity can have serious effects on the public perception of their impartiality and on the judicial system.”

Justice Kumar further opined that since the petitioners were on probation, a regular departmental enquiry was not required before passing the order of discharge simpliciter. Examining precedents, he observed that in case a discreet enquiry is held to verify facts, the order would not be vitiated merely because an opportunity of being heard was not provided.

He ruled, “The alleged conduct and behaviour of the petitioners was not a misconduct in discharge of official work and duties and it is also not the case of the opposite parties. So no regular departmental enquiry was required. However, in view of the law as discussed above, the petitioners have failed to maintain the high standards of probity, morality and propriety as expected from a judicial officer.”

Justice Kumar also rejected the contention that the order was stigmatic or punitive in nature, noting that the rules have been amended to abolish the provision for debarment from future employment. He took note of the fact that some petitioners had in fact been employed at other institutions, including the judiciary.

He therefore opined that the petitions were devoid of merit and dismissed them, ruling, “It has been found that the petitioners have failed to conduct with probity and propriety, therefore, the discharge of their services by the order of simpliciter discharge has rightly been passed in accordance with law.”

Petitioners were inexperienced and young, should’ve been given another opportunity: Justice Chauhan’s opinion

Justice Chauhan allowed the petitions, opining that the petitioners should’ve been given another chance owing to them being young and inexperienced. He observed, “The petitioners are the young judicial officers and they are newly inducted officers and were not having required experience of service and how to conduct themselves in the court and out side the court and also that the incident was a fall out of an altercation between the parties, which is a normal human conduct. Even many people while talking to each other without under the influence of intoxication, they enter into altercation.”

He opined that the principles of natural justice would be applicable in the case at hand, since their discharge was based on misconduct, observing, “The solitary incident which has taken place and regarding which an enquiry has been made and on the basis of the said enquiry, the decision has been taken to dismiss the petitioners from service certainly leads to the conclusion that the order is stigmatic and the same could not have been passed without observing the principles of natural justice and the order is based on foundation rather than motive.”

Justice Chauhan further ruled that the order was, in fact, punitive and stigmatic, citing a notice issued by the Karnataka High Court for District Judge (HJS) cadre examination, wherein candidates who had been discharged from judicial service during probation were debarred from applying. He, therefore, allowed the petitions and quashed the impugned orders.

Read the Judgment Here