5 April 2022 4:08 PM GMT
Observing that the Armed Forces Tribunal has the jurisdiction to interfere with the finding of a Court-Martial, the Supreme Court reinstated an army officer, upholding the setting aside of his conviction in a corruption case.The Court also observed that conviction solely on the basis of extra-judicial confession without corroboration is unjustified"It could thus be seen that the...
Observing that the Armed Forces Tribunal has the jurisdiction to interfere with the finding of a Court-Martial, the Supreme Court reinstated an army officer, upholding the setting aside of his conviction in a corruption case.
The Court also observed that conviction solely on the basis of extra-judicial confession without corroboration is unjustified
"It could thus be seen that the extrajudicial confession is a weak piece of evidence. Unless such a confession is found to be voluntary, trustworthy and reliable, the conviction solely on the basis of the same, without corroboration, would not be justified," a bench comprising Justices L Nageswara Rao and BR Gavai said.
The army officer in the instant case was found guilty by the General Court Martial (GCM) for corruption under Section 7 of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988, read with Section 69 of the Army Act, 1950 and a sentence of cashiering from service and rigorous imprisonment for one year was imposed on him.
The GCM's order of conviction and sentence was however set aside by the Armed Forces Tribunal (AFT), Regional Bench, Kochi, on an appeal by the officer. The AFT had also directed that the officer be reinstated in service, with no pay and allowance for the period he remained out of service, but without any service break. However, the AFT sustained the conviction of the officer for the offence under Section 63 of the Army Act (violation of good order and discipline) and upheld the sentence of forfeiture of seniority of the rank of Major.
Challenging the AFT order, the Union of India approached the Supreme Court. The officer also filed appeal before the Supreme Court challenging the AFT order to the extent it sustained the conviction under Section 63 of the Army Act and ordered the forfeiture of his seniority as Major.
The allegation against the officer was that he had cleared some candidates as medically fit after accepting bribes. The Court noted that the case was solely based on the confessional statements allegedly made by the accused officer.
Therefore, the Supreme Court found that AFT "justified in allowing an appeal against conviction by a court martial when there was material irregularity in the course of the trial resulting in miscarriage of justice".
The Court rejected the Union's argument that the AFT exceeded its jurisdiction by interfering with the Court Martial.
"in view of clause (a) of sub section (4) of Section 15 of the AFT Act, the learned AFT would be justified in interfering with the finding of the courtmartial where its finding is legally not sustainable due to any reason whatsoever. Under clause (b) thereof, it would be permissible for the learned AFT to interfere with such a finding when it involves a wrong decision on a question of law. Under clause (c) thereof, the learned AFT would be justified in allowing an appeal against conviction by a courtmartial when there was a material irregularity in the course of the trial resulting in miscarriage of justice", the Bench observed.
"We are unable to accept the contention urged on behalf of the Union of India that the AFT is not entitled to reappreciate the evidence. Such re-appreciation of evidence is permissible to find out if any findings of the court martial are legally not sustainable due to any reason," the bench said.
Referring to the evidence on record, the Court observed that it is impossible that the officer alone can declare a candidate medically fit.
"It could thus be seen that a single officer like the respondentofficer cannot declare a candidate medically fit, if he is otherwise not. His evidence would show that the team like the one of which the respondent-officer was a member, only assists the independent members in the conduct of tests, measurements and the medical examination".
The Bench also allowed the officer's appeal against the conviction under Section 63 of the Army Act, observing that he had given proper explanation for how the amount of Rs.20,000 came to be deposited in his account and how the amount of Rs.65,000 came to deposited in his father-in-law's account.
The Top Court directed that the officer be reinstated forthwith with continuity of service. However, it was held that he will not be entitled for backwages for the period during which he was out of employment.
Case Title : Union of India v. Major R. Metri NO. 08585N
Citation : 2022 LiveLaw (SC) 343
Appearances : Additional Solicitor General Vikramjit Banerjee for the Union; Advocate Gaurav Agarwal for the officer
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