SC: Candidates with Criminal Antecedents not Fit for Police Force

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January 10, 2018

Case name: Union Territory, Chandigarh Administration and Others v. Pradeep Kumar and Anr.

Date of Judgement: January 08, 2018

In this recent case taken up by the Supreme Court a batch of petitions were taken together to decide the common issue:

Whether the candidature of the respondents who had disclosed their involvement in the criminal cases and also their acquittal could be cancelled by the Screening Committee on the ground that they are not suitable for the post of constable in Chandigarh Police?

Whether the court can substitute its views for the decision taken by the Screening Committee?

The Court in the case inferred that candidates with criminal antecedents even after acquittal are not fit to join the Police Force.

Brief Facts: In this case, the respondents were denied employment on the ground that they had been prosecuted in a criminal trial for the offences under the Indian Penal Code and were later acquitted by the trial court giving them benefit of doubt. The case was referred to the Screening Committee which found that respondents were not suitable for appointment as Constables in the Chandigarh Police.

Aggrieved, respondents approached the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT) which set aside the orders of the Screening Committee and directed the competent authority to consider the names of the respondents for appointment to the post of Constable. The State filed writ petition before the High Court which was dismissed. Being aggrieved, the State preferred these appeals.

In appeal, the State contended that acquittal of a person does not entitle him to be appointed as a matter of right and that even though the respondents were acquitted in the criminal case, the appointment of the respondents to the post of Constable in Chandigarh police, was found not desirable by the appointing authority.

On the other hand, the Respondents contended that they had fairly disclosed the factum of facing criminal trial by giving complete details while applying for the job and there was no suppression on the part of the respondents.

Bench’s verdict

The Supreme Court in the case upheld the Screening Committee’s decision and made the following observations with respect to criminal antecedents of Respondents and also elaborated on the concept of “honorable acquittal”:

That acquittal in a criminal case is not conclusive of the suitability of the candidates in the concerned post. If a person is acquitted or discharged, it cannot always be inferred that he was falsely involved or he had no criminal antecedents. Unless it is an honourable acquittal, the candidate cannot claim the benefit of the case.

What is honourable acquittal?– In this context, the Supreme Court made reference to the case of Deputy Inspector General of Police and Another v. S. Samuthiram[1], in which the Court held that mere acquittal does not entitle an employee to reinstatement in service, the acquittal, it was held, has to be honourable. The expressions “honourable acquittal”, “acquitted of blame”, “fully exonerated” are unknown to the Code of Criminal Procedure or the Penal Code, which are coined by judicial pronouncements.

When the accused is acquitted after full consideration of prosecution evidence and that the prosecution had miserably failed to prove the charges levelled against the accused, it can possibly be said that the accused was honourably acquitted.

Police Aspirants to be of Good Character and Clean Antecedents- the Supreme Court opined that entering into the police service required a candidate to be of good character, integrity and clean antecedents. Reference was also made to the case of Commissioner of Police, New Delhi and Another v. Mehar Singh[2], wherein the acquittal was based on compromise and the Court opined that even though acquittal was based on compromise, it is still open to the Screening Committee to examine the suitability of the candidate and take a decision.

Authority of Screening Committee in deciding Candidature- It was further reinstated that the Screening Committee would be entitled to keep persons involved in grave cases of moral turpitude out of the police force even if they are acquitted or discharged if it feels that the acquittal or discharge is on technical grounds or not honourable.

That it will be within the rights of the Screening Committee to cancel the candidature of a candidate if it finds that the acquittal is based on some serious flaw in the conduct of the prosecution case or is the result of material witnesses turning hostile.

That it is only experienced officers of the Screening Committee who will be able to judge whether the acquitted or discharged candidate is likely to revert to similar activities in future with more strength and vigour, if appointed, to the post in a police force.

That the Screening Committee will have to consider the nature and extent of such person’s involvement in the crime and his propensity of becoming a cause for worsening the law and order situation rather than maintaining it.

Whether to allow a person with doubtful integrity to work in the department– That while the standard of proof in a criminal case is the proof beyond all reasonable doubt, the proof in a departmental proceeding is preponderance of probabilities. Quite often criminal cases end in acquittal because witnesses turn hostile. Such acquittals are not acquittals on merit. An acquittal based on benefit of doubt would not stand on a par with a clean acquittal on merit after a full-fledged trial, where there is no indication of the witnesses being won over.

Important to maintain integrity and high standard of Police force- In the context, the Supreme Court remarked that in order to maintain integrity and high standard of police force, the Screening Committee may decline to take cognizance of a compromise, if it appears to it to be dubious.

That the police force is a disciplined force. It shoulders the great responsibility of maintaining law and order and public order in the society. People repose great faith and confidence in it. It must be worthy of that confidence.

That a candidate wishing to join the police force must be a person of utmost rectitude. He must have impeccable character and integrity. A person having criminal antecedents will not fit in this category. Even if he is acquitted or discharged in the criminal case, that acquittal or discharge order will have to be examined to see whether he has been completely exonerated in the case because even a possibility of his taking to the life of crimes poses a threat to the discipline of the police force.

That the decision of the Screening Committee must be taken as final unless it is mala fide.

The contents of the case can be accessed here.

[1] (2013) 1 SCC 598

[2] (2013) 7 SCC 685