Acquittal in a criminal case is not conclusive for the suitability of the candidate for appointment. Thus, unless the respondent is honorably acquitted in a criminal case, it would not automatically entitle him for an appointment to the post
By: Likivi K. Jakhalu, Campus Law Centre, Delhi University
The Supreme Court bench consisting of Justices Indira Banerjee and J.K. Maheshwari remarked that the law is well-settled that if a person is acquitted, giving him the benefit of doubt from the charge of an offense involving moral turpitude or because the witnesses turned hostile, would not automatically entitle him for the employment, that too in disciplined force.
In this case, an appeal had been filed questioning the validity of the order passed in Writ Appeal No.1090 of 2013 on 20.12.2013 upholding the order of the learned Single Judge of High Court passed on 27.09.2013.
The facts unfolded in the present case are that the respondent’s candidature was rejected due to his involvement in an act of kidnapping for ransom. Though he was acquitted in the said case because the abducted complainant became hostile, he was dismissed by the authority. Since he had not been honorably acquitted of the charge, the authority viewed his candidature as ineligible.
The Court was of the view that if the acquittal is directed by the court on consideration of facts and material evidence on record with the finding of false implication or the finding that the guilt had not been proved, accepting the explanation of accused as just, it should be treated other then as an honorable acquittal.
In other words, “if the prosecution could not prove the guilt for other reasons and not ‘honorably’ acquitted by the Court, it be treated other than ‘honorable’, and proceedings may follow.”
According to the Court, when the prosecution fails to take steps to examine crucial witnesses or the witnesses turned hostile, such acquittal would fall within the purview of giving the benefit of doubt and the accused cannot be treated as honorably acquitted by the criminal court. While, in a case of departmental proceedings, the guilt may be proved based on the preponderance of probabilities. It is thus observed that acquittal giving the benefit of doubt would not automatically lead to the reinstatement of a candidate unless the rules provide so.
The Court observed that “acquittal or discharge of a person cannot always be inferred that he was falsely involved or he had no criminal antecedent.”
The said issue has been considered in Mehar Singh Case wherein it was held that non-examination of key witnesses leading to acquittal is not an honorable acquittal, in fact, it is by giving the benefit of doubt.
The Court said the nature of acquittal is necessary for core consideration. If acquittal is not honorable, the candidates are not suitable for government service and are to be avoided. The relevant factors and the nature of the offense, the extent of his involvement, the propensity of such a person to indulge in similar activities in the future are the relevant aspects for consideration by the Screening Committee which is competent to decide all these issues.
It was said that “It is clear, the respondent who wishes to join the police force must be a person of utmost rectitude and have impeccable character and integrity. A person having criminal antecedents would not be fit in this category.”
The employer has the right to consider the nature of acquittal or decide until he is completely exonerated because even a possibility of his taking to the life of crimes poses a threat to the discipline of the police force.
The Standing Order, therefore, has entrusted the task of taking decisions in these matters to the Screening Committee and the decision of the Committee would be final unless mala fide. According to the screening committee’s circulars, his candidature can be considered by the employer.
“The mere disclosure of the offenses alleged and the result of the trial is not sufficient. In the said situation, the employer cannot be compelled to give an appointment to the candidate,” added the order.
The Supreme Court dismissed the decision of the High Court as not sustainable in law since it did not consider legal positions as discussed above.