ABHAY JAIN V. HIGH COURT OF JUDICATURE FOR RAJASTHAN AND OTHERS

COURT: Supreme Court of India

CORAM: Vineet Saran, Aniruddha Bose

DATE OF JUDGMENT: 15 March 2022

FACTS

The appellant, Mr. Abhay Jain joined as a judicial officer in 2013. He had been appointed as a District Judge in 2013 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. It was during his time as Session Judge, Anti-Corruption Department has the incident for this case has taken place.

In a case regarding bribery under Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988, three individuals were arrested, namely K K Jalia (who was the Chairman of the Municipal Corporation, alleged to take bribe of 5 Lakhs), Alimuddin (who was the Chairman of the Municipal Corporation, alleged to take a bribe of Rs 10 Lakhs) and Irfan (was a non-official also alleged to be involved in the case). The predecessor of the appellant dismissed both K KJalia and Alimuddin’s bail on 03-02-2015. Charge sheet was filed against all the three accused on 23.02.2015.

K K Jalia moved for 2nd bail application in the appellants Court and he was granted bail on 27-04-2015.

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 on 27-04-2015. 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.

Subsequently, the enquiry against the appellant was closed on 02.05.2016. However, the department reserved the right to reopen the same.

On 05.05.2016, the High Court also closed the disciplinary proceedings initiated against the appellant. Aggrieved by the order dated 27.01.2016, the appellant filed a Writ Petition before the Rajasthan High Court on 18.05.2016

By an Order dated 21.10.2019, the Rajasthan High Court dismissed the Writ Petition filed by the Appellant against the order dated 27.01.2016.

Aggrieved by the abovementioned High Court Order dated 21.10.2019, this appeal has been filed by the appellant by way of Special Leave Petition.

ISSUE RAISED

Whether the Judicial Officer could be held liable for misconduct or not?

JUDGEMENT

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.

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