Summary Court Martial Should Be Ordered Only In A Situation Where It Is Absolutely Imperative That Immediate Action Is Necessary: SC [Read Judgment]

Summary Court Martial Should Be Ordered Only In A Situation Where It Is Absolutely Imperative That Immediate Action Is Necessary: SC [Read Judgment]

"The power to order an SCM is a drastic power which must be exercised in a situation where it is absolutely imperative that immediate action is necessary."

The Supreme Court has reiterated that the power to order a Summary Court Martial is a drastic power which must be exercised in a situation where it is absolutely imperative that immediate action is necessary.

The allegation against the then Acting Lance Dafadar was that while on duty for cleaning the service area in the morning, he entered the residence of a colleague and while his spouse was washing her son, placed his hands on her shoulder. A Summary Court Martial was conducted and he was held guilty and was dismissed from service. In his challenge against this, the Armed Forces Tribunal concluded that the punishment of dismissal was disproportionate and should be modified to an order of discharge.

Before the Apex Court, it was contended in Randhir Singh vs. Union of India that there was no reason or justification to hold an SCM in May 2008 in respect of an incident that took place in August 2007. Referring to the provisions of Section 120 of the Army Act 1950 and the Supreme Court judgment in Ex Havildar Ratan Singh vs Union of India and in Union of India vs Vishav Priya Singh, it was contended that the convening of an SCM is by way of an exception where immediate action is necessary.

The court also noted the submission that the judgment in Vishav Priya Singh (supra) has since been clarified in the course of a review so as to be applicable on and from 5 July 2016, whereas the incident in question dates back to August 2007. The bench comprising Justice DY Chandrachud and Justice Indira Banerjee said:

"The above clarification indicates that the requirement of recording reasons for convening a Summary Court Martial shall apply from 5 July 2016. However, the fundamental principle of law which has been enunciated is that the power to order an SCM is a drastic power which must be exercised in a situation where it is absolutely imperative that immediate action is necessary. Sub-section (2) of Section 120 is prefaced by the words "when there is no grave reason for immediate action". In the present case, though the incident took place on 11 August 2007, the SCM took place on 22 May 2008. The convening of an SCM was contrary to law."

Taking note of the fact that about twelve years have elapsed since the date of the incident, the bench invoked Article 142 of the Constitution of India, and ordered that the discharge of the Havildar shall take effect from the date on which he completes fifteen years of service so as to render him eligible for the grant of pension.

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