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KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • The Supreme Court while hearing the appeal of a terminated bank employee, held that the employee’s right to be represented by a person of his choice is subject to restrictions as mentioned in the service rules of the Bank.
  • Interpretation of Clause 22(ix)(a) of the Service Code associated with the Bank was sought, which gave a delinquent officer a right to be represented by a representative of an employees association.

FACTS OF THE CASE

  • In the case of The Chairman, State Bank of India and another versus MJ James, a local branch manager of the Bank of Cochin was subjected to disciplinary proceedings by the bank after he was found to be involved in activities which caused losses to the bank.
  • He requested to be represented by an office bearer of an employees association of another organisation was denied, stating that as per Service Code, he could be represented by an office bearer of an association or union of the same bank. He was further found guilty of the charges and terminated from services in 1985. His appeal was also denied by the Chief General Manager in 1999.
  • He went in an appeal to the High Court which interpreted Clause 22(ix)(a) of the Service Code, and held that the provision allowing an employee to be represented by a office bearer of an employees association was not restricted to the bank in question and that it was available generally.
  • The matter then went in an appeal to the Supreme Court.

SUPREME COURT’S DECISION

  • The Court disagreed with the decision of the High Court, stating that the absence of “the” before the word “bank” in the service code does not automatically widen its ambit and that the intent of the legislative authority needs to be considered.
  • The Court referred to various judgements to establish that while the right to be represented is made available to serve the principles of natural justice, such right is subject to restrictions placed by the institution.
  • Stating this, the court held that the right to be represented by counsel or agent of choice in disciplinary proceedings is not absolute.
  • Adding to this, the Court also held that if the charge is of severe and complex nature, then the request to be represented through a counsel or agent should be considered.
  • Stating this, the Court allowed the appeal and set aside the judgement of the High Court.

QUESTIONS

  • Do you agree with the court’s judgement?
  • What do you mean by principles of natural justice?

Let us know your views on the issue in the comment section below!

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