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Acquittal Of Delinquent Employee In A Criminal Case Does Not Debar Employer From Proceeding With Disciplinary Enquiry: Supreme Court

Ashok KM
22 March 2022 9:32 AM GMT
Acquittal Of Delinquent Employee In A Criminal Case Does Not Debar Employer From Proceeding With Disciplinary Enquiry: Supreme Court
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The Supreme Court observed that the acquittal of the delinquent employee in a criminal case does not debar the employer from proceeding with disciplinary enquiry.The bench comprising Justices DY Chandrachud and Surya Kant observed that a Court in the exercise of judicial review of disciplinary proceedings must restrict its review to determine whether: (i) the rules of natural justice have...

The Supreme Court observed that the acquittal of the delinquent employee in a criminal case does not debar the employer from proceeding with disciplinary enquiry.

The bench comprising Justices DY Chandrachud and Surya Kant observed that a Court in the exercise of judicial review of disciplinary proceedings must restrict its review to determine whether:

(i) the rules of natural justice have been complied with;

(ii) the finding of misconduct is based on some evidence;

(iii) the statutory rules governing the conduct of the disciplinary enquiry have been observed;

(iv) whether the findings of the disciplinary authority suffer from perversity;

(vi) the penalty is disproportionate to the proven misconduct.

In this case, the Karnataka High Court set aside the judgment of the Karnataka Administrative Tribunal directing the compulsory retirement of an employee from service following a disciplinary enquiry on charges of bribery. The High Court had held thus taking into account the acquittal of the delinquent employee in a criminal case.

Before the Apex Court, the State-appellant contended that the acquittal in a criminal proceeding will not preclude the exercise of the jurisdiction of the disciplinary authority in a departmental enquiry.  On the other hand, the respondent contended that the finding of misconduct is without an application of mind and is perverse.

The bench observed that the principles which govern a disciplinary enquiry are distinct from those which apply to a criminal trial. The court said:

"In a prosecution for an offence punishable under the criminal law, the burden lies on the prosecution to establish the ingredients of the offence beyond reasonable doubt. The accused is entitled to a presumption of innocence. The purpose of a disciplinary proceeding by an employer is to enquire into an allegation of misconduct by an employee which results in a violation of the service rules governing the relationship of employment. Unlike a criminal prosecution where the charge has to be established beyond reasonable doubt, in a disciplinary proceeding, a charge of misconduct has to be established on a preponderance of probabilities. The rules of evidence which apply to a criminal trial are distinct from those which govern a disciplinary enquiry. The acquittal of the accused in a criminal case does not debar the employer from proceeding in the exercise of disciplinary jurisdiction."

The bench observed that the High Court exceeded its jurisdiction under Article 226 and trenched upon a domain which falls within the disciplinary jurisdiction of the employer. It said:

In the exercise of judicial review, the Court does not act as an appellate forum over the findings of the disciplinary authority. The court does not re-appreciate the evidence on the basis of which the finding of misconduct has been arrived at in the course of a disciplinary enquiry. The Court in the exercise of judicial review must restrict its review to determine whether: (i) the rules of natural justice have been complied with; (ii) the finding of misconduct is based on some evidence; (iii) the statutory rules governing the conduct of the disciplinary enquiry have been observed; and (iv) whether the findings of the disciplinary authority suffer from perversity; and (vi) the penalty is disproportionate to the proven misconduct.

The bench thus allowed the appeal observing that none of the above tests for attracting the interference of the High Court were attracted in the present case.

Case details

State of Karnataka vs Umesh | 2022 LiveLaw (SC) 304 | CA 1763-1764 of 2022 | 22 March 2022

Coram: Justices DY Chandrachud and Surya Kant

Counsel: Adv V N Raghupathy for State- appellant, Adv Ashwin V Kotemath for respondent.

Headnotes

Disciplinary Proceedings - Acquittal in Criminal Case - The acquittal of the accused in a criminal case does not debar the employer from proceeding in the exercise of disciplinary jurisdiction - In a prosecution for an offence punishable under the criminal law, the burden lies on the prosecution to establish the ingredients of the offence beyond reasonable doubt. The accused is entitled to a presumption of innocence. The purpose of a disciplinary proceeding by an employer is to enquire into an allegation of misconduct by an employee which results in a violation of the service rules governing the relationship of employment. Unlike a criminal prosecution where the charge has to be established beyond reasonable doubt, in a disciplinary proceeding, a charge of misconduct has to be established on a preponderance of probabilities. The rules of evidence which apply to a criminal trial are distinct from those which govern a disciplinary enquiry.  (Para 13)

Constitution of India, 1950 ; Article 226 - Judicial Review of Disciplinary Proceedings - In the exercise of judicial review, the Court does not act as an appellate forum over the findings of the disciplinary authority. The court does not re-appreciate the evidence on the basis of which the finding of misconduct has been arrived at in the course of a disciplinary enquiry. The Court in the exercise of judicial review must restrict its review to determine whether: (i) the rules of natural justice have been complied with; (ii) the finding of misconduct is based on some evidence; (iii) the statutory rules governing the conduct of the disciplinary enquiry have been observed; and (iv) whether the findings of the disciplinary authority suffer from perversity; and (vi) the penalty is disproportionate to the proven misconduct. (Para 17)

Summary : Appeal against Karnataka High Court judgment which set aside the judgment of the Karnataka Administrative Tribunal directing the compulsory retirement of the respondent employee from service following a disciplinary enquiry on charges of bribery - Allowed - High Court exceeded its jurisdiction under Article 226 and trenched upon a domain which falls within the disciplinary jurisdiction of the employee - The acquittal of the respondent in the course of the criminal trial did not impinge upon the authority of the disciplinary authority or the finding of misconduct in the disciplinary proceeding.

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