Adverse ACR on basis of doubtful integrity: What the Delhi HC held

Adverse ACR on basis of doubtful integrity: What the Delhi HC held

Aditi Singh

The Delhi High Court has dismissed a petition filed by a retired judicial officer challenging the ‘C’ grade given to him in his Annual Confidential Report (ACR).

The Bench of Justices Ravindra S Bhat and AK Chawla held that the general impression in the mind of the Full Court with respect to a judicial officer’s integrity plays a significant role while grading the officer’s ACR.

The petitioner, who was awarded ‘C’ grading with the remark “doubtful integrity”, had challenged his ACR for the year 1995 on the ground that it was “entirely unfounded” as it was based entirely on hearsay and not any objective material.

The Court acknowledged that the reputation of a judicial officer must not be tarnished on the basis of hunches without any material on record. Nonetheless, the Court stated that it is equally important to ensure that the corruption does not creep in judicial services.

Quoting several judgments, the Court reiterated that in case of recommendations of the Full Court, the High Court on the judicial side has to exercise great caution and circumspection in setting aside that order.

However, in an appropriate case when the decision of the Full Court is not based on any material, such interference can be granted, the Bench stated.

The petitioner had also challenged the application of two Full Court resolutions dated September 28, 1991 and March 23, 1996 to his case.

The resolutions empowered the Full Court to “discard” the grading of the borrowing department and merely left it to “consider” it, without being bound by them.

The petitioner submitted that his case should be governed by Rule 33 of the Delhi Judicial Service Rules, 1970, which mandated the High Court to give effect to the reports of the borrowing department, i.e. the Government of NCT of Delhi, where he worked as Presiding Officer of the Labour Court on deputation with that department.

Rule 33 applies to all “residuary matters”, the conditions of service for which no provision or insufficient provision has been made in Delhi Judicial Service Rules. 

The Court rejected the petitioner’s submission seeking primacy of the borrowing department’s report, and called it “unmerited”.

It held that by virtue of Article 235 of the Constitution of India, the task of considering and evaluating performance of a judicial officer with respect to judicial or quasi-judicial duties and responsibilities, is that of the High Court.

The performance evaluation of character and integrity of the judicial officer can only be done by his parent organization i.e. the High Court and this “primary task” cannot be said to be supplanted, the Court held.

The assessment and evaluation of the performance of such officials is merely an input for the overall determination.”, it clarified.

The Court, hence, concluded that there was no infirmity or illegality in the procedure adopted by the Full Court while recording ‘C’ grading with “doubtful integrity” in respect of the petitioner for the year 1995.

The petitioner was represented through Advocates Dr MP Raju, C Kanta Dateer and Gurpreet Singh. The Delhi High Court was represented through Advocate Viraj R Datar.

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