Date of judgement:
March 15th, 2022
Justice Uday Umesh Lalit and Justice Vineet Saran
Appellants –Abhay Jain
Respondents – High Court of Judicature for Rajasthan
The Supreme Court, in this case, observed that a Judicial Officer cannot be prosecuted merely for negligence. If he did not have any corrupt intention, then mere negligence or error cannot amount to misconduct.
- The Appellant had been appointed as a District Judge in 2003 after clearing the District Judge Examination, 2013.
- He was initially appointed on probation for 2 years. Thereafter, he was appointed as the Additional District & Sessions Judge No.2, Bharatpur. Subsequently, he was appointed as Presiding Officer of a Labour Tribunal and then as Sessions Judge of the Anti-Corruption Department of Bharatpur.
- In a case under Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988, the appellant had been called upon by the High Court to submit his comments on the bail order of K. K. Jalia, one of the co-accused.
- The appellant had granted bail even though the bail had been dismissed by the High Court.
- In his reasons, the appellant stated that the High Court's order has not been produced before him which led him to believe that there must have been a change in circumstances.
- The appellant also stated that the two other co-accused whom he had denied bail, had been granted bail by the High Court.
- After considering the explanation, departmental enquiry was directed by the Chief Justice of the Rajasthan High Court.
- Whether the Judicial Officer could be held liable for misconduct or not?
Rajasthan Civil Services (Classification, Control and Appeal) Rules, 1958
- Rule 16: Procedure for imposing major penalties
- The Supreme Court noted that disciplinary proceedings cannot be commenced against a judicial officer merely on the grounds that he passed a wrong order.
- The Bench categorically stated that mere negligence cannot amount to misconduct.
- The Bench observed that the ACRs had not been communicated to the Judicial Officer within reasonable time and relied on the judgment of Sukhdev Singh vs Union of India [(2013) 9 SCC 566].
- The Court noted that every ACR entry must be communicated to a Judicial Officer within reasonable period of time.
- The Court further observed that a judicial officer, in the initial stages of his service, may make certain errors which would be reduced as he gains more experience.
- What needs to be noted in such cases is whether the Officer had any corrupt intention.
- The Court noted that the appellant was terminated as punishment. The Court observed that while the Officer may be guilty of negligence, such negligence would not amount to misconduct. Mere negligence cannot be treated as misconduct.
- Lastly, the Bench noted that there was nothing on record to show that the appellant was liable for unsatisfactory performance as stipulated under the Rule 45 as well as 46 of Rajasthan Judicial Service Rules, 2010.
- The Court noted that the appellant was entitled to the protection envisaged under Article 311(2) of the Constitution. No verifiable complaint had been filed against the appellant either.
The Court thus set aside the order of the High Court and directed the reinstatement of the appellant. The Supreme Court's judgment is significant and laudable. Judicial Officers are humans too and they can make errors. Prosecuting them for making errors or passing wrong judgments would have set a highly problematic precedent. The Supreme Court rightly supported the Judicial Officer in this case.