In the judgment of the case of a judicial officer of the rank of Additional District Judge - Ram Murti Yadav against his compulsory retirement on May 3, 2016 at the age of 56 years under Rule 56 (C) of the U.P. Fundamental Rules, delivered on December 10, 2019, Justice Ashok Bhushan and Justice Navin Sinha have sounded a note of caution that judicial service is not like any other service. Dispensation of justice is not only an onerous duty, but has been considered as akin to discharge of a pious duty, and therefore, is a very serious matter.
At the same time the Court has admitted that a person entering the judicial service no doubt has career aspirations. But it reminded also not to forget that a person discharging judicial duties acts on behalf of the State in discharge of its sovereign functions.
The standards of probity, conduct, integrity that may be relevant for discharge of duties by a careerist in another job cannot be the same for a judicial officer. A judge holds the office of a public trust. Impeccable integrity, unimpeachable independence with moral values embodied to the core are absolute imperatives which brooks no compromise. A judge is the pillar of entire judicial system and the public has a right to demand virtually irreproachable conduct from anyone performing a judicial function. Judges must strive for the highest standards of integrity in both their professional and personal lives.
The appellant while posted as a Chief Judicial Magistrate granted acquittal to the accused on September 17, 2007,in criminal case 4670/2005- state v. Mohd. Ayub under sections 467, 468, 471,474,420, 406, and 120B of the IPC.
A complaint was lodged against the appellant with regard to the acquittal. After calling for comments from the appellant, and perusing the judgment and the order of reversal in appeal, the Administrative Judge on February 24, 2009, recommended an inquiry. A vigilance inquiry was held by the OSD, Inquiry, High Court of Allahabad. His Inquiry Report of May 10, 2012, was adverse to the appellant. His comments were called for on June 28, 2012.
On December 20, 2012, the appellant was informed that on basis of the enquiry, a censure entry had been recorded in his character roll. The order of punishment was accepted by the appellant without any challenge. On April 1, 2016, a committee of 3 HC Judges constituted for screening of judicial officers for compulsory retirement under the Rules recommended the compulsory retirement of the appellant which was endorsed by the Full Court on April 14, 2016 leading to the impugned order of compulsory retirement. The challenge laid out by the appellant to his order of retirement before the HC was unsuccessful and thus this appeal came to be filed before the Supreme Court.
The Apex-Court considered the submissions on behalf of the parties and also the precedents sought to be relied upon by them respectively. The HC had also noticed that another vigilance inquiry had also been initiated but was dropped. The enquiry which followed on the complaint against acquittal manifests that the appellant was provided proper opportunity of his defence at every stage. Quite apart from the scrutiny of his service records by the Screening Committee and again by the Full Court, the Full Bench, the division Bench had again perused his ACRs and opined as under:
"We have perused the expunged portion of the annual remarks of the petitioner and found that rating of the petitioner as fair officer has not been expunged, Likewise in the year 2008-09, 2009-10, 2010-11, the petitioner was posted as Additional District & Sessions Judge, Fast Track Court No. 8, Pratapgarh and his disposal of work prescribed as Addl.DJ , Fast Track Court was found inadequate.
"Censure entry, recorded against the petitioner and considered by the Screening Committee and the Full Court, still has not been expunged. The petitioner has never challenged the said censure entry, therefore, there is no substance in the arguments of the learned counsel for the petitioner that single censure entry relating to integrity could not be considered by the Screening Committee and Full Court.
"The expositions of law relied upon by the learned counsel for petitioner are of no help for the petitioner. The expositions of law relied upon by the respondent’s counsel is squarely applicable to the facts and circumstances of the case."
The service records of the appellant have been examined by the Screening Committee, Full Court as also by the Division bench of the HC. The scope for judicial review of an order of compulsory retirement based on the subjective satisfaction of the employer is extremely narrow and restricted. Only if it is found to be based on arbitrary or capricious grounds, vitiated by mala fides, overlooks relevant materials, could there be limited scope for interference. The Court, in judicial review, cannot sit in judgment over the same as an Appellate Authority. Principles of natural justice have no application in a case of compulsory retirement.
According to the Supreme Court, there can hardly be any direct evidence with regard to integrity as far as a judicial officer is concerned. It is more a matter of inference and perceptions based on the conduct of the officer. The inadequacy of the present system of writing ACRs of judicial officers has deficiencies in several ways, was noticed in the decision of the case – Registrar General, Patna HC v. Pandey Gajendra Prasad and Others – (2012) 6 SCC 357.
It has to be kept in mind that a person seeking justice , has the first exposure to the justice delivery system at the level of subordinate judiciary, and thus a sense of injustice can have serious repercussions not only on that individual but can have its fall out in the society as well. It is, therefore, absolutely necessary that the ordinary litigant must have complete faith at this level and no impression can be afforded to be given to a litigant which may even create a perception to the contrary as the consequences can be very damaging. The standard or yardstick for judging the conduct of the judicial officer, therefore, has necessarily to be strict.
Having said so, the Court added further, that it must also observe that it is not every inadvertent flaw or error that will make a judicial officer culpable. The State Judicial Academics undoubtedly has a stellar role to perform in this regard. A bona fide error may need correction and counseling. But conduct which creates a perception beyond the ordinary cannot be countenanced. For a trained legal mind, a judicial order speaks for itself. In conclusion, the Supreme Court was of the considered opinion that the order of compulsory retirement of the appellant calls for no interference and hence it dismissed the appeal.