High Court, being the disciplinary authority, has the power to suspend Judicial Officers: SC

Supreme Court: In a case where a Judicial Officer in Delhi Higher Judicial Services, against whom disciplinary proceedings alleging sexual harassment is underway, had sought a copy of Preliminary Inquiry Report, the bench of Ashok Bhushan and Navin Sinha, JJ has held that no prejudice can be held to be caused to the petitioner by non-supply of the Preliminary Inquiry.

Considering that the Preliminary Inquiry Report did not contain any findings on allegations made against the petitioner and only opined that inquiry should be held, the Court said that the right of appeal is given to an aggrieved person only when report is submitted under Section 13 of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act of 2013 to the employer. It further explained,

“Section 13(3) contemplates the report of Internal Complaints Committee when it “arrives at the conclusion that the allegation against the respondent has been proved”. It is not the case of any of the parties that the report of the Committee dated 05.11.2016 is the report where allegation against the petitioner has been proved. Even under Section 11(1) in the second proviso, the only contemplation is to make available a copy of the findings. Thus, when the report in which there are no findings, parties are not entitled to have the copy.”

Disciplinary authority for Judicial Officers

The disciplinary jurisdiction vests in the High Court which can hold inquiries against a member of the subordinate judiciary, impose punishment other than dismissal or removal. The High Court can also suspend a member of the judiciary. Insofar as dismissal or removal is concerned, the said orders are required to be passed by the Governor on the recommendation of the High Court. The fact that the orders of dismissal or removal are issued by the approval of the Governor in no manner denude the disciplinary control of the High Court.

Full Court’s power to suspend Judicial Officer

The provisions of the Act, complaint mechanism and mechanism for constitution of the Internal Complaints Committee, mechanism to inquire the complaint are all for protection of dignity and welfare of women at workplace. The provisions of Sections 11 and 13 in no manner affect the control of the High Court under Article 235, which it has with respect to judicial officers as noted above. The power to suspend the judicial officer vests in the High Court. The Full Court of the High court is in no manner precluded from initiating disciplinary inquiry against the petitioner and placing the petitioner under suspension on being satisfied that sufficient material existed.

[Dr. PS Malik v. High Court of Delhi, 2019 SCC OnLine SC 1070, decided on 21.08.2019]

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