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‘Overzealous judge, not inefficient’ — SC on Bihar judicial officer’s plea against suspension

New Delhi: A trial court judge should not suffer punitive action, such as suspension, for authoring an “erroneous judgment”, unless there are allegations of corruption against the judicial officer, the Supreme Court observed Monday.

A bench of Justices UU Lalit and SR Bhat made the remarks while hearing a petition filed by a judicial officer from Bihar who has challenged his suspension by the Patna High Court for delivering a series of quick verdicts, including in POCSO cases (law to prevent child abuse), where he concluded trials within days and handed down death sentence to the accused.

On 29 July, the SC bench had issued notice to the Patna HC, seeking its response within two weeks on the judicial officer’s plea. The apex court had then observed verbally that to give someone a death sentence without adequate opportunity to him/her to defend himself/herself would be a “travesty of justice”.

In his petition the judicial officer had also sought consideration for restoration of his seniority.

When the SC bench took up the matter Monday, Justice Bhat said it was not a very healthy idea to initiate a disciplinary enquiry against a judicial officer who may be an “overzealous judge”, but not “inefficient”.

“Did any HC judge speak with him or have a conversation about his judgments,” Justice Bhat asked advocate Gaurav Aggarwal, who was representing Patna HC, when told that the Bihar’s judge’s verdicts were pending appeal before the Patna HC on the judicial side.

Aggarwal said that the judge concerned had been served a chargesheet following his suspension and in consonance with the procedure, he should file his reply before the administrative committee that ordered his suspension.

Even though the bench asked the Bihar judicial officer to submit his response to the chargesheet within two days and gave another two days to the Patna HC’s administrative committee to take its decision, Justices Lalit and Bhat advised dropping of the proceedings against the trial court judge.

“HC is always in the capacity of a loco parentis (in place of a parent). These are matters that need to be sorted out at the training level. This is not a matter where his (judge) conduct is in question. Judicial decisions cannot be a subject matter (of disciplinary enquiry) unless you are alleging corruption,” Justice Lalit observed.

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‘His judgments were quite well-written’

The SC bench also suggested against “dragging the matter to such a length” to avoid “embarrassment for the institution”.

“Ultimately, it is a matter of the institution. Anything said against the judicial officer is a reflection on the HC also. It has ramifications, there are ways to handle this,” Justice Lalit said.

Both admitted that the judge appeared to be an “overzealous officer”, but added in the same vein that his judgments were quite well-written. When Aggarwal questioned the Bihar judge’s conduct for writing a judgment in half-an-hour, the bench was quick to retort: “We are not going further into it, the matter is with the HC.”

In its chargesheet against the officer, a copy of which is with ThePrint, the Patna HC has charged him of delivering two verdicts in POCSO cases, while refusing the accused any opportunity to produce evidence, oral or documentary in his defense.

In one of the two cases, the chargesheet records, the accused was not supplied with police papers and denied the opportunity to cross-examine three prosecution witnesses.

“The aforesaid acts, prima facie show and indicate pre-meditation, recklessness and thus gross judicial impropriety and indiscipline in discharge of his duties as also malicious contemptuous conduct and thus gross misconduct all unbecoming of a judicial officer of the Bihar Higher Judicial Services,” the chargesheet reads.

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Source: The Print

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