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Key Takeaways

  • Due to a lack of "honourable acquittal" in criminal cases, a candidate's non-appointment to a judicial officer post was upheld by the Supreme Court.
  • The case title is Rajasthan High Court v. Akashdeep Morya (CA 5733/2021).
  • Justices KM Joseph and PS Narasimha heard the case in the Supreme Court.
  • In judicial review, the Court is not concerned with the decision, according to the Court. It is important that the decision-making process is free of flaws.
  • The Court stated that a judge plays one of the State's most important functions and that judges who uphold the highest moral standards help to foster public confidence in the justice system.

Introduction

One of the most considered questions is whether a criminal case against anyone can affect their career as a public servant. It is always much debated on and decided on the merits of the case. The public's perception of a judicial officer's credentials and background is critical. The Supreme Court noted upholding a candidate's non-appointment to a judicial officer post due to the lack of "honourable acquittal" in criminal cases. The purpose of this article is to discuss the Supreme Court's most recent decision, which addressed the question of whether a criminal case against a person can affect their career as a judge.

Detailed Backgroundof the Case

The title of the case is Rajasthan High Court v.Akashdeep Morya (CA 5733/2021). The Supreme Court heard it on September 16 2021. The Bench that heard the case was constituted by Justices KM Joseph and Justice PS Narasimha. The appellant, in this case, is the Rajasthan High Court, and the Respondent is one Akashdeep Morya.

The appellant published a notice on November 25, 2013, inviting applications for the position of Civil Judge (Junior Division). In response to the same, the Respondent applied. It appears that there was no requirement in the application to mention the candidate's involvement in any criminal case. However, when the matter was brought up for verification, the Respondent volunteered information about his involvement in certain criminal cases. The Respondent was charged with various offences under Sections 341, 323, 147, 148, 149, 504, 420, 406, 120B, 452, 34, 324 of the Indian Penal Code in 1999, 2011 and 2012, and was acquitted based on compromise in some of them.

On July 6, 2015, the High Court Committee appointed by the Chief Justice to consider the cases of 12 candidates, including the Respondent, decided not to recommend the Respondent's case. Concerning the 12 candidates, the Chief Justice referred the matter back to the Committee. On July 29, 2015, the Committee again declined to recommend the Respondent's case. On August 8, 2015, the Full Court decided to ask the Committee to reexamine the case. The Committee took note of the Respondent's antecedents once more on August 26, 2015, and decided not to recommend the Respondent's case. The Court agreed with this.

Petition to the High Court

The Respondent then filed a Writ Petition. The petition resulted in an order where it was stated that according to the counsel for the appellant, the petitioner is entitled to the relief sought in this petition in light of the Supreme Court's decision in AvtarSingh v. Union of India &Ors., reported in (2016) 8 SCC 471. The writ petition was dismissed, but the petitioner was given two weeks from the date of receipt of the certified copy of the order to file representation and a copy of the judgement in Avtar Singh's case with the Registrar, Rajasthan High Court, Jodhpur.

Following the filing of such a representation, it was expected that the matter would be decided on the merits within one month of receiving the representation, in light of the Hon'ble Supreme Court's decision in Avtar Singh and the facts narrated in the representation. As a result, the appellant's Lower Judiciary Committee met to discuss the case once more.

The View of the Committee

It was decided that, in accordance with the order of the Hon'ble Rajasthan High Court, Akash Deep Morya's representation would be considered in light of the Supreme Court's decision in Avtar Singh's case.

In Avtar Singh's case, the Hon'ble Supreme Court held that an acquittal had already been recorded in a case involving moral turpitude of a heinous/serious nature on technical grounds and ifit was not a case of clean acquittal or if benefit of reasonable doubt had been given, the employer may consider all relevant facts available as to antecedents and may take appropriate decisions relating to the continuance of the employment.

The Committee noted that between 1999 and 2012, four different FIRs were filed against Akash Deep Morya, the details of which are as follows:

  • Akash Deep Morya and others were charged in FIR No. 81/1999 with violating sections 341, 323, 148, 149, 504 and 324 of the Indian Penal Code, with the allegation against Morya being to inflict a sword blow on the victim's hand. He was acquitted of charges under Sections 341, 323, 324, and 504 of the IPC on the basis of a compromise, and he was acquitted of the remaining charges due to a lack of evidence.
  • The police submitted an FR in FIR No. 75/2011 u/s 420, 406, and 120B IPC, which was accepted on the grounds that the parties had compromised the case. The complainant did not want to pursue it further.
  • Police filed FIR No. 106/2011 u/s 452, 323, 34 IPC and an FR was submitted on the basis of a compromise, with the finding that only an offence under Section 504 IPC is made out that it is non-cognizable. The Court accepted the FR because the parties had compromised the case, and the complainant did not want to pursue it further.
  • In FIR No. 98/2012, a charge sheet was filed against Morya and others for violating Sections 323, 341, 324, and 34, IPC, alleging that Morya inflicted a Gandasi blow on one of the victims' heads. On the basis of compromise, he was acquitted of the offences under Sections 323, 341 IPC, and he was acquitted of the offence under Section 324 IPC due to a lack of evidence.

It was noted that, according to the Supreme Court's decision in Avtar Singh's case, even if an acquittal is recorded in a severe case, the employer may consider relevant facts as antecedent. Four criminal cases were filed against Morya in the current case, one after the other. In all of the above cases, the offences were serious, and the acquittals were not clean. The Committee decided that comparing him to other candidates was irrelevant when evaluating his candidacy.

As a result, after considering all relevant factors, the Committee has concluded that Morya does not merit an appointment to the Civil Judge Cadre and that his application is liable to be rejected. The writ petition was filed as a result of this. The High Court granted the Respondent's writ petition.

Observation of the High Court

The High Court considered it significant that the Respondent belonged to the Scheduled Caste category, a weaker section of society. However, he appeared for the competitive examination and passed it on the basis of performance and was recommended for appointment. However, the appointment was denied due to the filing of some cases against him prior to applying.

Additionally, the Court determined that if appointments are denied haphazardly in such cases, no one will trust the judicial system. As such, it is the employer's responsibility to use its judgement to assess the candidate's suitability objectively. It was also determined that it is implausible that the employer would treat offences under Section 323 and 324 IPC on an equal footing with other heinous offences. Hence, it was held by the High Court that the denial of appointment is both unsustainable and unconstitutional. As a result, the petition was granted by the High Court.

Contentions Before the Supreme Court

Contentions by the Appellant

Ms Meenakshi Arora, learned senior counsel appearing for the appellant, the Rajasthan High Court, stated that the High Court's order is incorrect. This is because what is at stake is the employer's ability to decide based on the relevant inputs in this case. She drew the Court's attention to the cases above. She reminded the Apex Court that the Court is currently considering a case involving an appointment to a judicial position. Hence, the offences are not to be treated as trivial. Four FIRs were filed against the Respondent. It is not as if the Respondent was acquitted honourably. The acquittal cannot be described as one based entirely on a lack of evidence.

On the other hand, in the initial FIR, the issue was resolved, and the witnesses became hostile. The final FIR is also a case in which a chargesheet was filed. The cases did involve violations of Sections 323 and 324 of the Indian Penal Code, as charged by the investigating agency. Once again, acquittal resulted from a compromise, not from the Court appreciating the evidence and concluding that none is against the Respondent.

Additionally, the appellant's counsel drew the Court's attention to Avtar Singh v. Union of India and Others. It was held in the case that the employer has 'discretion' to terminate or excuse the omission. The employer's power to decide when a declarant has already been convicted/acquitted means that all facts and circumstances, including the impact of suppression or false information, are taken into account when determining an incumbent's suitability for the job in question.

Suppose an employer decides that suppression is irrelevant and that disclosure would not have harmed an employee's fitness. In that case, it can excuse the lapse for reasons to be recorded. However, the employer must act prudently, taking into account the position's nature and duties. For higher officials/posts, the standard must be very high, and even slight misinformation or suppression may disqualify a person. But the same standard cannot be applied to all posts. In closed criminal cases, it must be shown that the suppressed information is material and would disqualify an incumbent.

An employer would be justified in not appointing or terminating an incumbent based on various factors. When considering a candidate's fitness for employment, an employer must consider the impact of the conviction, the case's background, the nature of the offence, etc. Even if acquittal is granted, an employer may refuse to hire anunfit person or of questionable character. The counsel added that if the employer determines that the conviction or acquittal in a criminal case does not affect the incumbent's fitness for employment, they may be appointed or retained in the position.She went on to say that the appellant's decision was not necessarily one that the High Court should have interfered with.

Contentions by the Respondent

Gp. Capt. Karan Singh Bhati, learned counsel for the Respondent, AkashdeepMorya, pointed out that the Respondent belonged to the Scheduled Caste. In all of these cases, he was falsely accused. He also mentioned that youngsters are more prone to making mistakes. The Court should take a more liberal approach in such cases. So long as the offences are minor, as in this case, the impugned judgement is only to be supported. He referred the Court to a few decisions in this regard.

The counsel cited Mohammed Imran v. State of Maharashtra and Ors. He noted that the said decision also involved appointing the petitioner to a judicial position but argued that after reviewing the facts, this Court directed reconsideration of the decision of not to appoint the petitioner in the said case. It was contended this case's principle would also apply to all fours in the facts of this case.

He further drew the Court's attention to the judgment in Commissioner of Police and Ors. v. Sandeep Kumar. The Court stated that it agreed with the Delhi High Court that the cancellation of his candidature was illegal but wanted to express its views. The Court noted that the Respondent, in this case, was probably around 20 years old at the time of the incident. At that age, young people often make mistakes, which are often excused. Youth will be youth. They are not expected to behave like adults. Rather than labelling young people as criminals for the rest of their lives, we should condone minor indiscretions.

The counsel further stated that it is true. The Respondent did not state in his application that he was involved in a S.325/34 IPC case. He probably didn't mention it for fear of being disqualified. In any case, it was not a serious crime like murder, dacoity, or rape, and thus a more lenient approach should be taken.

He argued that the first FIR filed against the Respondent was essentially a property dispute. Concerning the second FIR, he pointed out that it was essentially a civil matter that was given a criminal colour. He reminded the Court that the case was never tried. However, the investigating authority found no merit in the FIR, resulting in filing the final report. The third FIR also did not result in a filed chargesheet, but rather a final report. The final report was accepted without protest, and the matter was closed. Even in the last case, he claims the case involved a minor infraction under Section 323 IPC, not serious enough to justify disqualifying an eligible candidate from the society. In these matters, the counsel argued that the liberal spirit that animates this Court should continue to guide this Court.

Observations of the Supreme Court

The Supreme Court noted that the Respondent's learned counsel pointed out that a criminal case was pending against him when he applied. A compromise was entered into after an affidavit stating the pendency of the matter was filed.The Court noted that the Respondent did not conceal information about his criminal cases because it was not required in the application. However, the appellant shows that the material was unravelled during verification. So, the Court ruled that the Respondent as a candidate did not suppress any material.

The Apex Court took full notice of the principles whichthis Court has enunciated in the decision inAvtar Singh. The Court noted that the form must be specific, not vague, to determine suppression or false information. Only information that is required to be disclosed must be disclosed. If the employer knows non-requested but relevant information, it can be considered objectively when assessing fitness. In such cases, action cannot be taken based on suppression or submitting false information about a non-requested fact.

It was stated that in a case of this nature, the Court could not be unaware of the nature of the post in question. Any judicial officer at any level must adhere to the highest standards. This is for obvious reasons. A judge performs one of the essential functions of the State, resolving disputes involving the people of the country. Judges who uphold the highest moral standards help to build public trust in the justice system. The advertisement mentions the candidate's character as a requirement. The character cannot be understood as a simple certification by the competent authority.

The Court held that the High Court is involved in judicial officer appointments in accordance with the Constitution. Although the State issues the appointment order, the High Court's involvement in judicial officer appointments stems from its constitutional position. The High Court must recommend the most qualified candidates. The position of Civil Judge or Magistrate is of paramount importance, despite being the lowest rung in the judicial pyramid.

The Supreme Court stated that the public's perception of a judge's credentials and background is critical. The Court only highlighted these points to examine the facts of the case further. In other words, in the absence of an honourable acquittal, allegations of an officer's involvement in criminal cases may erode public trust in the system.

The Court noted that final reports were filed in two of the FIRs. In two FIRs, the matter progressed, and the authorities filed chargesheets. However, the Respondent was acquitted. The Respondent was not acquitted because there was no evidence against him. Hence, the Court could not describe the acquittals as honourable or based on a lack of evidence.

It was also noted that the chargesheet was filed against the Respondent under Section 324 when the decision was finally taken under the High Court's direction. This seems correct. The chargesheet allegedly sought to establish a case under IPC Sections 323, 341, 324, and 34. Also, it was noted that the Respondent was accused of inflicting a gandasa blow on the victim's head. In the first case, the Respondent was charged with offences under Sections 341, 323, 148, 149, 504 and 324 IPC. The High Court noted that the Respondent had allegedly struck the victim's hand with a sword in that case. No bail is allowed under Section 324 IPC. So, it can be concluded that the investigating authority charged him in two instances with offences under Section 324 IPC.

The Court further noted that the High Court's approach, evident in its observations about the candidates' youth and age, appears to imply general acceptability of minor criminal behaviour. Given the youth's age and the rural setting, this is a broad view that such misdemeanours should not be taken seriously. The Court believes that such generalisations should be avoided in judicial verdicts. Criminal acts against women, beating up, trespass and assault, causing serious injury or death (with or without weapons) to victims in rural areas can indicate caste or hierarchy-based behaviour. Through its designated officials, the concerned public employer must scrutinise each case, especially in the case of police recruitment, whose duty it is to maintain order and combat crime.

The Court referred to the judgement cited by the Respondent's counsel in Sandeep Kumar. This Court noted that the incident occurred when the candidate was 20 years old. However, the Court noted that the Respondent was nearing 30 years old at the alleged FIR 98/12 incident. In this context, it is noteworthy that the post was advertised in the following year, 2013. The Court considered the nexus between the Respondent's application and the date of the last incident, his age, and the time of the advertisement.The Supreme Court, therefore, contented that given the Respondent's age, the nature of the charges against him, the two FIRs, and the way of the acquittal with which the trials ended, the case should have been approached differently High Court.

Again, the Court noted that in judicial review, the Court is not concerned with the decision. It concerns that the decision-making process should not be flawed. The circumstances where the Court would interfere with the decision's merits are far too well established. The Supreme Court finally stated that interference with the decision of theappellant was not warranted. Hence, theappeal was allowed, and the impugned judgment from the High Courtwas set aside.

Conclusion

Hence, it can be concluded that, yes, one's career as a judge can be affected if they have criminal cases against them. The highest volume of litigation in the country occurs at the lowest level, according to the report. Rarely do cases reach the Supreme Court. The Civil Judge is the most common interface for the ordinaryperson. Therefore, it can be contended that this decision by the Supreme Court was correct in its ways. The backbone on which the Indian judiciary works can be deemed to be the faith of the country's citizensin the judiciary. Hence, these decisions also create an awareness that the aspirants must be concerned about the repercussions of their involvement in such cases. It also restores the faith of people in the Indian judicial system.

Questions:

  • Which offence does Section 324 of the IPC relates to?
  • Which Section of the CrPC has the provisions relating to the preparation of a final report by the police?

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