Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: In a case where it was argued before the bench of Dr. DY Chandrachud* and Surya Kant, JJ that in case the trial is conducted by the ordinary criminal court and not a court-martial under the Army Act, the accused would not be able to avail the benefit of being awarded a lower punishment under the Army Act, 1950, the Court has held,

“If that was the intent of the legislature – that is to protect persons subject to the Army Act by awarding them lesser punishment even for serious offences – then the Act would not have provided for concurrent jurisdiction of court-martial and ordinary criminal courts at all. Although the Army Act is special law compared to the IPC, if the statute in its text does not make any qualifications or exceptions to the general law, it would be impermissible for the court to read such qualifications in the Act.”

Section 69 of the Army Act

Subject to the provisions of section 70, any person subject to this Act who at any place in or beyond India, commits any civil offence, shall be deemed to be guilty of an offence against this Act and, if charged therewith under this section, shall be 39 liable to be tried by a court-martial and, on conviction, be punishable as follows, that is to say,

(a) if the offence is one which would be punishable under any law in force in India with death or with transportation, he shall be liable to suffer any punishment, other than whipping, assigned for the offence, by the aforesaid law and such less punishment as is in this Act mentioned; and

(b) in any other case, he shall be liable to suffer any punishment, other than whipping, assigned for the offence by the law in force in India, or imprisonment for a term which may extend to seven years, or such less punishment as is in this Act mentioned.

Jurisdiction of Criminal Court versus Court Martial

Section 69 does not ipso jure oust the jurisdiction of the ordinary criminal court. Where there exists concurrent jurisdiction in the court-martial and in the ordinary criminal court, primarily the discretion of conducting the court-martial in preference to a trial by the ordinary criminal court is entrusted to the designated officer under Section 125. The designated officer has been conferred with the discretion “to decide before which court the proceedings shall be instituted”. Moreover, Section 125 has a conjunctive requirement which is amplified by the expression “and, if that officer decides that they should be instituted before a court-martial”. Thus, the conjunctive requirement under Section 125 is that the competent officer has the discretion to decide before which court the proceedings shall be instituted and if the officer exercises that discretion to institute proceedings before a court-martial, then the officer will direct that the accused be detained in military custody. Section 125, in other words, not only recognizes that an element of discretion has been vested in the designated officer, but it also postulates that the designated officer should have decided that the proceedings be instituted by the court-martial in which event the court-martial would take place.

Is a person tried and convicted by a Court Martial at an advantageous position than a person tried and convicted by a Criminal Court owing to the lower punishment under the Army Act?

Sub-section (a) of Section 69 states if a person is convicted of a ‘civil offence’ which is punishable with death or transportation under the law in force, then he shall be liable to suffer any punishment, other than whipping, assigned for the offence by the aforesaid law and such less punishment as is in this Act mentioned. In contrast with sub-Section (a), sub-Section (b) provides that in all other offences, the person convicted shall be liable to suffer the punishment assigned under the laws in force or imprisonment for a term which may extend to seven years, or such less punishment as provided in the Act.

The words of the statute clearly indicate that the legislature provided different punishments for serious offences which under law are punishable with death or life imprisonment, and for all other offences. In case of the former, sub-Section (a) of Section 69 provides that the court-martial may convict him and punish him with death or life imprisonment. In addition to this, the court-martial may also give a lesser punishment under the Army Act (such as cashiering, dismissal from service, etc., provided under Section 71). The use of the word “and” in sub-Section (a) clarifies the intent of the legislature, which is to ensure that the Army authorities have sufficient discretion to grant a punishment for serious offences, over and beyond what is permissible under Penal Code. This however, does not imply that a person who is otherwise liable for death or life imprisonment can be granted a lesser punishment under the Army Act.

In contrast, sub-Section (b) of Section 69 uses the term “or” to indicate that for offences that under the Penal Code or any other law are of less severity, the Army authorities may order a lesser punishment.

If the argument that in case the trial is conducted by the ordinary criminal court and not a court-martial under the Army Act, the accused would not be able to avail the benefit of being awarded a lower punishment under the Army Act, is accepted, it would imply that a person who is convicted and punished by a Court-martial under the Army Act will be in an advantageous position than a person who, though subject to the Army Act, has been convicted by an ordinary criminal court.

[State of Sikkim v. Jasbir Singh, 2022 SCC OnLine SC 128, decided on 01.02.2022[


*Judgment by: Justice Dr. DY Chandrachud


Counsels

For State: Vivek Kohli, Advocate General and Aman Lekhi, Additional Solicitor General

For Accused: Senior Advocate Pradeep Kumar Dey

Armed Forces Tribunal
Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

Armed Forces Tribunal: The Division Bench of Justice Umesh Chandra Srivastava and Vice Admiral Abhay Raghunath Karve, Member (A) slammed the Union of India opining that gross injustice done to the applicant was a case of mind set and adhering to old junk system. Opining that it requires interference by administration of justice so that one has to obey and respect law, the Bench remarked,

“It is a matter of great surprise that 23 years have elapsed but order of High Court Allahabad has not yet been complied with and respondents are stating that compliance of order is in process.”

Brief facts of the case were that the applicant’s husband was enrolled in the army on 15-12-1971 and dismissed from service on 22-11-1986, after completing about 14 years and 11 months of service. Noticeably, on 03-02-1985 the husband of the applicant had written a to Defence Secretary, Chief of Army Staff and GOC-in C, Southern Command containing allegation against his Squadron Commander. The matter was investigated and disciplinary action was taken against her husband for direct writing to superior officers.

The applicant’s husband was tried by District Court Martial (DCM) for an offence under Army Act Section 56 (a); i.e. making a false accusation. Consequently, he was punished and was dismissed from service.

The husband of the applicant preferred appeal before the Allahabad High Court which was allowed His appeal was allowed vide order dated 27.07.1998 and order of punishment awarded by DCM was quashed and respondents were directed to reinstate husband of the applicant in service and treat him in continuous service with all service benefits including increment and promotion as per relevant rules.

The grievance of the applicant was that instead of complying with the decision of the High Court, the respondents had filed an appeal on 18-11-1998 against the judgment which was dismissed on 08-07-2010. During pendency of the appeal, husband of the applicant died on 31-01-2002. The applicant contended that though there was no any stay against the order of High Court, the same was not complied with.

Noticing that the High Court had passed detailed order in favour of the husband of the applicant granting all service benefits including promotion and pay and allowance and that the appeal against the order was dismissed in the year 2010, the Bench opined that the respondents should have immediately reinstate the husband of the applicant in service and grant his dues.

The public interest demands that administration must abide by the promises held out to citizens. It is totally immoral to go back from the promises held out by the mighty state to the detriment of a small people.

Considering that the husband of the applicant died during pendency of the matter and applicant suffered mental pain and agony for more than 34 years and had to enter in unnecessarily litigation even after her case was decided by the High Court, the Bench imposed exemplary cost of Rs. 75,000 on the respondents for not implementing the order of the High Court for about 23 years.

Accordingly, the respondents were directed to grant all service benefits as applicable to the husband of the applicant in terms of order of the High Court Allahabad along with arrears and further grant family pension to the applicant from the next date of death of her husband within four months. Interest at the rate of 8% was also awarded on the amount accrued from due date till the date of actual payment. [Gulkandi Devi v. Union of India, Original Application No. 605 of 2018, decided on 13-10-2021]


Kamini Sharma, Editorial Assistant has reported this brief.

Appearance by:

For the Applicant: Advocate Birendra Prasad Singh

For Union of India: Central Govt. Counsel RC Shukla

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: In a case where an Armed Force Tribunal ordered retrial on the ground that the procedure prescribed in Rule 180 of the Army Rules, 1954 had not been followed, the bench of L. Nageswara Rao and Ajay Rastogi, JJ has held that non-compliance of Rule 180 cannot be a ground for ordering a re-trial as the Tribunal does not have jurisdiction to direct re-trial on any other ground except that mentioned in Section 16(2) of the Armed Forces Tribunal Act, 2007.

The Court was hearing a case where, in a firing incident, a soldier (respondent) killed a fellow soldier, while he himself sustained gunshot injuries. The General Court Martial convicted the respondent for murder and for attempting to commit suicide. He was sentenced to suffer imprisonment for life and to be dismissed from service. The respondent then challenged the said decision before the Armed Force Tribunal, primarily, on the ground of non-compliance of Rule 180 of the Rules. It was held by the Tribunal that Rule 180 provides that a person against whom an inquiry is conducted to be present throughout the inquiry. The Tribunal concluded that the entire trial against the Respondent is vitiated as there was no doubt that the Respondent was denied permission to be present when statements of witnesses were being recorded before the Court of Inquiry.

Rule 180 deals with the procedure for inquiry where the character of a person who is subject to the Act is involved. When an inquiry affects the character or military reputation of a person who is subject to the Act, full opportunity has to be provided to the person throughout the inquiry, of making any statement, of giving any evidence he may wish to make or give, and of cross-examining any evidence.

The power conferred on the Tribunal to direct re-trial by the Court Martial is only on the grounds mentioned in Section 16(2). The Tribunal is competent to direct re-trial only in case of evidence made available to the Tribunal was not produced before the Court Martial and if it appears to the Tribunal that the interests of justice requires a re-trial.

When the matter reached before the Supreme Court, appellant had argued that As the Respondent was given an opportunity to cross-examine witnesses as provided in Rule 22 and during the Court Martial proceedings which he did not utilize, there is no failure of justice. It was further submitted that Court of Inquiry is only for collection of evidence and any violation of the procedure prescribed under Rule 180 does not vitiate the proceedings of the Court Martial.

The respondent, on the other hand, argued that the collection of evidence by the Court of Inquiry is a crucial stage during which the accused is entitled to be provided with an opportunity as contemplated in Rule 180. Violation of the procedure prescribed in Rule 180 would render the entire proceedings void.

Considering the provisions in question and various rulings, the Court concluded:

(a) The proceedings of a Court of Inquiry are in the nature of a fact-finding inquiry conducted at a pre-investigation stage;

(b) The accused is entitled to full opportunity as provided in Rule 180;

(c) As a final order of conviction is on the basis of a trial by the Court Martial, irregularities at the earlier stages cannot be the basis for setting aside the order passed by the Court Martial;

(d) If the accused raises a ground of non-compliance of Rule 180 during the framing of charge or during the recording of summary of evidence, the authorities have to rectify the defect as compliance of the procedure prescribed in Rule 180 is obligatory.

It, hence, held that the Tribunal has competence only to order re-trial by the Court Martial and that there is no power conferred on the Tribunal to direct the matter to be remanded to a stage prior to the Court Martial proceedings.

[Union of India v. Ex. No. 3192684 W. Sep. Virendra Kumar, 2020 SCC OnLine SC 12, decided on 07.01.2020]

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: Deciding the question as to the scope of power of Armed Forces Tribunal to hear the appeals arising out of court martial verdicts qua GREF personnel, the Court held that denial of jurisdiction to the said tribunal would be contrary to the Army Act, 1950 and the provisions engrafted under the Armed Forces Tribunals Act, 2007. It was held that the right to approach the AFT by the personnel of GREF who are tried by a court martial held under the very same Act has to be recognized. It was, however, clarified, that at the same time if the punishment is imposed on GREF personnel by way of departmental proceedings held under the CCS(CCA) Rules, 1965 the same cannot be agitated before the AFT and AFT shall have no jurisdiction to hear and decide grievances of GREF personnel relating to their terms and conditions of service or alternatively put ‘service matters’.

The bench of Dipak Misra and U.U. Lalit, JJ explained that the 2007 Act has been made applicable to persons subject to the Army Act, 1950, the Navy Act, 1957 and the Air Force Act, 1950, the retired personnel subject to these Acts including their dependants, heirs and successors insofar as it relates to their service matters. The tribunal constituted in terms of Sections 4 and 5 thereof, is vested with twin jurisdiction viz., jurisdiction, powers and authority in service matters as provided in Section 14 and the jurisdiction in matter of appeal against courts martial under Section 15 of the Act.

It was further stated that the 1950 Act and the Army Rules, 1954 have been applied to civilian personnel of the GREF only for the purpose of discipline. The reasons are obvious. The GREF is a force raised and maintained under the authority of the Central Government, its units are set up on the lines of the Indian Army, it works with and under close coordination with regular army in border areas, facilitates the Indian Army to carry out its operational role, etc. Hence, it has been felt appropriate that the 1950 Act should be made applicable to a force raised and maintained by the Central Government as considered necessary in the interest of discipline. The issue can be perceived from a different perspective. The GREF personnel are subjected by legislative scheme to dual disciplinary control, and such an arrangement is permissible

Hence, if an offence is committed in relation to an enemy, offences on active service, mutiny, desertion, disobedience, etc., considering the nature and gravity of the offence, it may warrant severe action against the delinquent by way of trial by a court martial. In other disciplinary cases, the competent authority may decide to proceed under CCS(CCA) Rules, 1965 in which the maximum permissible punishment is only ‘dismissal from service’. [Mohammed Ansari v. Union of India, 2017 SCC OnLine SC 83, decided on 02.02.2017]