Acquittal In Criminal Case By Itself Doesn't Vitiate Disciplinary Enquiry Findings Of Misconduct: SC [Read Judgment]
"A disciplinary enquiry is governed by a different standard of proof than that which applies to a criminal case."
The Supreme Court has reiterated that the acquittal in the course of the criminal trial by itself is not a ground for vitiating the finding of misconduct which has been arrived at during the course of the disciplinary proceedings.
A CRPC constable was accused of causing death of the co-employee occurred in the course of the handling of the weapon by him. The disciplinary enquiry found that the charge of misconduct was sustainable on the basis of the evidence on the record. However, though he was tried for offence under Section 304 IPC, it resulted in his acquittal.
Allowing his challenge against the findings of disciplinary enquiry, the High Court concluded that since the departmental proceedings as well as the criminal case was "same and identical", the departmental proceedings were not sustainable after the acquittal of the first respondent from the criminal case. The High Court relied on the judgment in Capt M Paul Anthony v Bharat Gold Mines Ltd.
In the said judgment, it was held that, while in the departmental proceedings the standard of proof is one of preponderance of the probabilities, in a criminal case, the charge has to be proved by the prosecution beyond reasonable doubts. The little exception may be where the departmental proceedings and the criminal case are based on the same set of facts and the evidence in both the proceedings is common without there being a variance, it was held.
In the appeal, the Apex Court bench comprising of Justice DY Chandrachud and Justice Indira Banerjee observed:
"A disciplinary enquiry is governed by a different standard of proof than that which applies to a criminal case. In a criminal trial, the burden lies on the prosecution to establish the charge beyond reasonable doubt. The purpose of a disciplinary enquiry is to enable the employer to determine as to whether an employee has committed a breach of the service rules."
"The fact that the first respondent was acquitted in the course of the criminal trial cannot operate ipso facto as a ground for vitiating the finding of misconduct which has been arrived at during the course of the disciplinary proceedings."
Setting aside the High Court judgment, the bench further observed:
" It is undoubtedly correct that the charge in the criminal trial arose from the death of a co-employee in the course of the incident resulting from the firing of a bullet which took place from the weapon which was assigned to the first respondent as a member of the Force. But the charge of misconduct is on the ground of the negligence of the first respondent in handling his weapon and his failure to comply with the departmental instructions in regard to the manner in which the weapon should be handled. Consequently, the acquittal in the criminal case was not a ground for setting aside the penalty which was imposed in the course of the disciplinary enquiry."