Candidate declared unfit for the post of District Judge due to pendency of criminal case. Can they claim reconsideration after acquittal? Read what SC says

Supreme Court: In a case where a man was tried for and later acquitted from charges under Section 498A/406/34 IPC, the bench of Ashok Bhushan and MR Shah, JJ held that the apprehension that a stigma shall continue with the name of the appellant is misconceived, as stigma, if any, is already over by acquittal.

The appellant had challenged the order of the Principal Secretary, Madhya Pradesh, Law and Legislative Department declaring him ineligible for being appointed to the post of District Judge (Entry Level) and had sought reconsideration by the High Court of Madhya Pradesh. On this the Court said that the mere fact that subsequently after more than a year when the person whose candidature has been cancelled has been acquitted cannot be a ground for reconsideration of his application by the High Court.

Brief facts of the case

The appellant submitted an online form after the High Court of Madhya Pradesh issued an advertisement dated 09.03.2017 inviting applications for recruitment in the post of District Judge(Entry Level) in the cadre of Higher Judicial Service by Direct Recruitment from amongst the eligible Advocates.

  • The appellant after being declared successful in the Main Examination was called for interview.
  • The appellant received a communication on 06.04.2018 from the Law and Legislative Department informing that he has been selected for the post of District Judge (Entry Level). He was asked to appear before the Medical Board for the health tests.
  • On 02.07.2018, the copy of the FIR filed against him by his wife in the year 2014 under Section 498/406/34 IPC was asked for.
  • On 14.09.2018, order was issued by the Principal Secretary, Madhya Pradesh, Law and Legislative Department declaring the appellant ineligible and directing for deletion the name of the appellant from the select list.
  • The Government also issued a Gazette notification deleting the name of the appellant from the main select list.
  • On 18.09.2019, the appellant was acquitted of the charge framed against him in the aforementioned criminal case registered against him by his wife.

Arguments advanced before the Supreme Court

It was argued before the Court that appellant having disclosed the lodging of FIR against him has not concealed any fact before the High Court and he, having been selected on merit, was entitled to be appointed. On the subsequent acquittal of the appellant on 18.09.2019 his case for appointment was to be reconsidered by the High Court and the High Court committed an error in not considering the appellant for appointment. The candidature of the appellant could not have been cancelled merely on the ground of pendency of criminal case.

“The appellant could not have been deprived of the employment after acquittal. There was no other material on record to indicate that antecedent or conduct of the appellant was not upto the mark. The High Court ought to have sent the matter back before the Higher Judicial Service and Examination-cum-Selection Committee for reconsideration.”


WHAT THE COURT SAID


On validity of the order declaring the appellant ineligible

The Court, however, noticed that the present is not a case where the name of the appellant was deleted in the select list on the ground of any concealment of criminal case against him. The name of the appellant was included in the select list which was forwarded to the State. The State after character verification submitted a report which report was considered on 18.07.2018 by the Administrative Committee (Higher Judicial Service) and Examination-cum-Selection and Appointment Committee and a resolution was taken that due to pendency of the case under Section 498A, 406-34 IPC on the basis of complaint filed by the wife, the appellant is not considered suitable for being appointed to the post of District Judge.

Stressing of the requirement that after declaration of the merit list the candidates have to be given appointments in time bound manner so that they may join the respective posts, the Court noticed that on the date when the Committee declared the appellant unsuitable, criminal case against him under Section 498A and 406 IPC was pending which was registered on a complaint filed by the appellant’s wife.

“The mere inclusion in the select list does not give an indefeasible right to a candidate. The employer has right to refuse appointment to the candidate included in the select list on any valid ground. The persons who occupy Judicial Service of the State are persons who are expected to have impeccable character and conduct.”

The character verification report was received from the State where pendency of the criminal case was mentioned which was the reason for the Committee to declare the appellant unsuitable.

On reconsideration of application by High Court after acquittal of the appellant

“In the present case the acquittal having taken place after the close of recruitment process, there was no question of examining the acquittal order by the High Court at the time of finalizing the selection process.”

The Court noticed that there can be no dispute that in event it is found that decision by which the candidature of a candidate is rejected is arbitrary or actuated by malafide such decision can be interfered by the Constitutional Courts. However, the decision of Examination-cum-Section and Appointment Committee for holding the appellant unsuitable was based on the relevant consideration, i.e., a criminal case against the appellant under Section 498A/406/34 IPC was pending consideration which was registered on a complaint filed by the wife of the appellant.

“Such decision of the Committee was well within the jurisdiction and power of the Committee and cannot be said to be unsustainable. The mere fact that subsequently after more than a year when the person whose candidature has been cancelled has been acquitted cannot be a ground to turn the clock backward.”

On stigma attached with appellant’s name

It was argued before the Court that due to deletion of the name of appellant from select list a stigma is attached to him, for removal of which this Court may issue notice in this SLP. The Court, however, said that the appellant having already been acquitted by the judgment dated 18.09.2019 stigma of criminal case has already washed out and the criminal case having resulted in acquittal no stigma is attached to the appellant’s name on the above ground.

[Anil Bhardwaj v. High Court of Madhya Pradesh, 2020 SCC OnLine SC 832, 13.10.2020]

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