Disciplining judicial officers

In a quite recent judgment of the case –Krishna Prasad Verma (dead) through LRs v. State of Bihar & Others, delivered on September 26, 2019, Justice Deepak Gupta and Justice Aniruddha Bose, at the Supreme Court, have clarified that there should be zero tolerance for corruption and if there are allegations of corruption, misconduct or of acts unbecoming a judicial officer, these must be dealt with strictly. However, if wrong orders are passed that should not lead to disciplinary action unless there is evidence that the wrong orders have been passed for extraneous reasons and not because of reasons on the file.

The Court has pointed out that in a series of judgments, it has held that the High Courts are also the protectors and guardians of the judges falling within their administrative control. Time and time again, it has laid down the criteria on which actions should be taken against the judicial officers. Repeatedly, it has cautioned the HCs that action should not be taken against judicial officers only because wrong orders are passed. To err is human and not one of us, who has held judicial office, can claim that “we have never passed a wrong order.” The Supreme Court has also pointed out that most litigants only come in contact with the District judiciary. They cannot afford to come to the High Court or the Supreme Court. For them the last word is the word of the Magistrate or at best the sessions Judge. Therefore, it is equally important, if not more important, that the judiciary at the District level and the Taluka level is absolutely honest, fearless and free from any pressure and is able to decide cases on the basis of facts on file, uninfluenced by any pressure from any quarters whatsoever. 

According to the Apex-Court, no doubt, if any judicial officer, conducts proceedings in a manner which would reflect on his reputation or integrity or there is prima facie material to show reckless misconduct on his part while discharging his duties, the HC would be entitled to initiate disciplinary cases but such material should be evident from the orders and should also be placed on record during the course of disciplinary proceedings.

In this case there are two charges against the appellant, who was Addl. District and Sessions Judge at Chhapra in Bihar. As far as first charge is concerned, a major fact, which was not considered by the enquiry officer, the disciplinary authority as well as the HC was that the Addl. Public Prosecutor, who had appeared on behalf of the State had not opposed the prayer of the accused for grant of bail. In case, the Public Prosecutor does not oppose the bail, then normally any Judge would grant bail. 

The main ground to hold the appellant guilty of the first charge is that he did not take notice of the orders of the HC whereby the HC had rejected the bail application of one of the accused vide order of November 26, 2001. It would be pertinent to mention that the HC itself observed that after framing of charges, if the non-official witnesses are not examined, the prayer for bail can be moved again, but after moving the Lower court first. 

The appellant may have been guilty of negligence in the sense that he did not carefully go through the case file and did not take notice of the order of the HC which was on his file. This negligence cannot be treated to be misconduct. It would be pertinent to mention that the enquiry officer has not found that there was any extraneous reason for granting bail. The enquiry officer virtually sat as a court of appeal picking holes in the order of granting bail.

It seems that later it was brought to the notice of the appellant that he had not taken note of the order of the HC while granting bail on July 11, 2002. Thereafter, he issued notice to all the three accused on August 23, 2002, in less than two months and cancelled the bail granted to all the three accused. If he had made the mistake of not seeing the whole file, on that being brought to his notice, he corrected the mistake. After the appellant cancelled the bail and the accused were arrested again, they again applied for bail and this bail application was rejected by the appellant on December 18, 2002.

After rejection of the bail application of the accused, two of the three accused moved the HC. The HC granted bail to one of the accused and the bail application of the other was rejected, not on merits but on the ground that he did not disclose the fact that he had earlier moved the HC for grant of bail. This itself is clear indicator of the fact that probably even the order passed by the appellant is not an incorrect one.

Coming to the second charge, which is under the NDPS Act, 1985. On July 18, 2002, the appellant, a Special Judge, closed the evidence of the prosecution which resulted in material witnesses not being examined and consequently the accused was acquitted. As far as this allegation is concerned, the enquiry officer on the basis of statements of two clerks of the Court has made lengthy observations that the appellant did not send any communication to the Superintendent of Police, District Magistrate and other authorities to ensure the production of the witnesses.

According to the enquiry officer, this being a serious matter, the evidence should not have been closed and the appellant should have made efforts to approach the senior officials to get the witnesses produced. The Cr.P.C. or the NDPS Act do not provide for any such procedure. It is the duty of the prosecution to produce the witnesses. Even in this case, interestingly, the Public Prosecutor has made a note on the side of the daily order-sheet that he is unable to produce the witnesses so the evidence may be closed. 

The Supreme Court has stated that it failed to understand how the appellant has been hanged whereas no action was taken or recommended against the Public Prosecutor concerned. The Court has noted that the enquiry officer, while conducting the enquiry had noted, while considering the arguments of the delinquent official, that he had raised a plea that he closed the evidence because the Public Prosecutor had made the statement, but while holding the appellant guilty of  misconduct no reference had been made to the statement of the Public Prosecutor.

The Supreme Court has also noted the case of the appellant that he had given 18 adjournments for production of the witnesses to the prosecution in the NDPS case. Such a judicial officer is between the devil and the deep sea. If he continues to grant adjournments, the HC will take action against him on the ground that he does not dispose of his cases efficiently and if he closes the evidence then the HC will take action on the ground that he let the accused go scot-free. That is not the purpose of Article 235 of the Constitution of India. “That is why,” the Supreme Court has repeated that one of the responsibilities of the HC on the administrative side is to ensure that the independence of the District judiciary is maintained and the HC acts as a guardian and protector of the District Judiciary. These matters can be taken into consideration while considering career progression of the concerned judicial officer. 

The Supreme Court has allowed the appeal with Rs 25,000/- costs and set aside all the orders passed against the delinquent judicial officer and granted all consequential benefits to his Legal Representatives on or before December 31, 2019.

 

R.S.Agrawal 
on 12 October 2019
Published in Others
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