A bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan and Navin Sinha upheld the compulsory retirement of a judicial officer as recommended by a committee of three judges in 2016 for an incorrect decision.
The facts of the case are that the appellant, a judicial officer of the rank of Additional District and Sessions Judge, acquitted an accused of an offence under various sections of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, whilst holding the office of Chief Judicial Magistrate. A complaint was lodged against the appellant and after an Administrative Inquiry, a censure entry was recorded in his character roll. A committee of three judges in 2016 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 14.04.2016 leading to the impugned order of compulsory retirement.
The appellant pleaded that his Annual Confidential Reports (ACR’s) certified his integrity, and since there was no inference of dishonesty or lack of integrity on part of the applicant in the criminal case, and merely because because a different view was possible did not justify the extreme step of compulsory retirement.
A Division Bench of the Allahabad High Court also found that there were more censure entries made in his character roll that were not expunged. Notably the court held that, the principles of judicial review apply in a narrow and restricted manner to orders of compulsory retirement, and the court cannot be expected to apply Principles of Natural Justice to matters of compulsory retirement or sit in judgment over the same as an Appellate Authority while conducting judicial review.
Further, the court relied upon the cases of Union of India & Ors. vs. Duli Chand, (2006) 5 SCC 680 and Union of India & Ors. vs. K.K. Dhawan, (1993) 2 SCC 56 for the proposition that mere error of judgment can also amount to grounds for compulsory retirement. The judgment in K. K. Dhawan’s case lists six instances where disciplinary action could be taken against a judge. Also, for the proposition that a single adverse entry could suffice for an order of compulsory retirement, the court relied upon Pyare Mohan Lal vs. State of Jharkhand and Ors., (2010) 10 SCC 693, where the court has specifically held that a single adverse entry regarding the integrity of an officer even in remote past is sufficient to award compulsory retirement.
With regard to the duties and nature of service of judicial officers, the court remarked thus,
“A person discharging judicial duties acts on behalf of the State in discharge of its sovereign functions. 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. 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.“ The court also remarked that in addition to the high standard of integrity required from a judge, a judicial officer at the subordinate judiciary constitutes the first exposure to the justice delivery system at the level of subordinate judiciary, and thus a sense of injustice can have serious repercussions.
In view of the aforementioned repercussions and giving due weightage to the impression to a litigant which may even create a perception of injustice or loss of faith, the Supreme Court held that the standard or yardstick for judging the conduct of the judicial officer has necessarily to be strict. The court also observed that for a trained legal mind, a judicial order speaks for itself.
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Link to judgment: Ram Murti v. State of UP and Anr.