Sikk HC | ‘Honourable acquittal’, ‘acquittal giving benefit of doubt’ raises and rests presumption-Difference demerits a candidate of merit |  No room for error in judicial services

Sikkim High Court: J.K. Maheshwari, CJ, dismissed a petition considering it to be bereft of merit which had sought to continue on the post of Civil Judge-cum-Judicial Magistrate as he had been acquitted of the charge levelled against him under Section 468 of the IPC.

In the instant case the petitioner after securing 2nd rank in the competitive exam, was recommended for appointment to the State Government for the post of Civil Judge-cum-Judicial Magistrate. After appointment, the Joint Secretary, Department of Personnel, Administrative Reforms, Training, Public Grievances (DoPART), Government of Sikkim informed the Registrar General, High Court of Sikkim that he had a police case against him under Section 420, 468, 471 of IPC, though acquitted by the Court of Judicial Magistrate, East Gangtok, giving him benefit of doubt. The letter of DoPART was placed before the Full Court. It was unanimously decided that since the conduct of the petitioner is not free from the element of doubt, therefore recommended to withdraw the appointment and ordered further to appoint the person next in merit.

The petitioner contended that he was acquitted from the charge levelled against him and that it was not a matter of concealment, as he had furnished the criminal charge and the acquittal in the attestation form. The respondents denied it saying that the column where he was obliged to mention had no such details. And further contended that if the High Court has applied its mind on the materials placed and opined that the conduct of the petitioner is not free from doubt and resolved to discontinue the petitioner from the work of administration of justice then such discretion is not assailable until questioned on the ground of mala fide intention, therefore, interference in exercise of power under Article 226 of the Constitution of India is not warranted.

Interestingly respondent no. 4, who was appointed in place of the petitioner being next in merit, very humbly prayed before the Court that if the petitioner succeeds then considering his hardships an alternative should be thought of creating or may be accommodating against the existing vacant posts.

The Court considered two contentions:

  1. Whether acquittal in a criminal case may lead to the conclusion that petitioner is entitled to continue on the post of Civil Judge-cum-Judicial Magistrate?
  2. Whether in the facts and circumstances of the case, the Full Court resolution of the High Court of Sikkim withdrawing the previous recommendations of appointment of the petitioner from the post of Civil Judge-cum-Judicial Magistrate is justified or can it be interfered with in the facts of the case in exercise of power under Article 226 of the Constitution of India?

The Court while considering the first contention opined that “in the context of settled legal position, it is required to be seen what is the effect of “honourably acquitted” or “acquitted giving benefit of doubt” by the Court…”. And further mentioned that ‘honourable acquittal’, ‘acquitted of blame’ and ‘fully acquitted’ are not defined anywhere but have been looked into through various judicial pronouncements. The Court went at lengths to define and differentiate the terms on the basis of the precedents. And held, “…the acquittal of petitioner is other than honourable, the proceedings of the Department may follow to judge his suitability looking to the credibility of the post meaning thereby the petitioner would not ipso facto entitled to continue to hold the post of Civil Judge-cum-Judicial Magistrate merely because he was acquitted…”.

The Court while addressing the second contention quoted the report of the Full Court which had held, “…On verification it was found that Mr. Tara Prasad Sharma was charge sheeted for interpolation with official records. However, he was acquitted on the ground that the prosecution has failed to prove the case beyond reasonable doubt…”.Resultantly unanimously resolved to withdraw the recommendation. However, it was also of the opinion that that even on giving truthful declaration by the employee regarding a concluded criminal case, the employer still has the right to consider the antecedents and cannot be compelled to appoint the candidate.

The Court considered Ashutosh Pawar vs. High Court of Madhya Pradesh, 2018 SCC Online MP 72 where the Full Bench observed that, “…the expectations from a Judicial Officer are of much higher standard. There cannot be any compromise in respect of rectitude, honesty and integrity of a candidate who seeks appointment as Civil Judge. The personal conduct of a candidate who may be appointed as Judicial Officer has to be free from any taint. The same must be in tune with highest standard of propriety and probity. The standard of conduct is higher than that expected of an ordinary citizen and also higher than that expected of a professional in law as well…”.

It was thus of the opinion, “In view of the above concepteurs, it is important to note that the view of the Court may be depend on the nature of offence charged and its result. Mere acquittal would not be sufficient but rather it would depend on whether it is a clean acquittal based on total absence of evidence or in the criminal jurisprudence requiring the case to be proved beyond reasonable doubt, that parameter having not been met, and the accused granted benefit of doubt but the role assigned to the accused may be relevant to consider…”.

The Court while considering the fact, that the resolution in question has not been challenged either on the basis of mala fide or on extraneous considerations or irrationality of the findings, therefore in the absence of the same considered interfering in it, unwarranted. Thus dismissed the petition, holding it to be an inescapable conclusion that the petition filed by the petitioner is meritless and not entitled to the relief as prayed.[Tara Prasad Sharma v. State of Sikkim, 2021 SCC OnLine Sikk 56, decided on 10-05-2021]


Counsel for Petitioner: Petitioner-in-person

Counsel for Respondents: Dr. Doma T. Bhutia, Addl. Advocate General with S.K. Chettri, Govt. Advocate for R1 and R2.

Moulik, Sr. Advocate assisted by Ranjit Prasad, Advocate for R3.

A.K. Upadhyaya, Sr. Advocate assisted by Thupden Bhutia and Sonam R. Lepcha, Advocate For R4.

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