Sends bad message to other efficient judges: Supreme Court advises Patna High Court to drop case against POCSO judge

The district judge had convicted and sentenced a man to life imprisonment for sexual assault of a minor on the same day, and had issued a death sentence after hearing a case for four days.
Justice UU Lalit, Justice S Ravindra Bhat and Supreme Court
Justice UU Lalit, Justice S Ravindra Bhat and Supreme Court

The Supreme Court on Friday advised the Patna High Court to drop the proceedings against a district judge from Bihar who had recently been placed under suspension. [Shashi Kant Rai v. High Court of Judicature at Patna & Anr]

A Bench of Justices UU Lalit and S Ravindra Bhat stated that it would be in the best interests of everyone involved if the disciplinary proceedings against the judge from Araria, Bihar were dropped, especially since it may send a negative message to other judges as well.

"Our sincere advice is drop everything. If you don't want to, we'll go threadbare into it. Unless you're alleging corruption, there has to be something glaring. He's only following up on his orders, extremely unfair on him...It sends a bad message to others, who are otherwise efficient," the Bench orally remarked.

"There shouldn't be over zealousness to punish," Justice Bhat added.

The Court was considering the plea moved by one Shashi Kant Rai, an Additional Sessions Judge from Bihar, who challenged a suspension order passed against him by the Patna High Court in February this year.

During today's hearing, Senior Advocate Vikas Singh, appearing for the petitioner, submitted that the judge was willing to submit a statement to the High Court rebutting the charges against him.

Counsel for the High Court Advocate Gaurav Agarwal said that the High Court will take an apt decision only after considering the entirety of the matter.

The top court accordingly directed the petitioner to submit his statement by August 15.

The matter will be taken up next on August 18.

The plea by the Araria district special Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO) judge states that action was taken against him only for questioning the new evaluation system in place for promotions in the district judiciary.

The petitioner-judge had, after rounds of non-consideration for promotion as civil judge (senior division), written to the High Court to consider restoring seniority as a basis for such elevations.

"The Hon’ble High Court, merely for questioning the process of evaluation of judgements, straightaway issued show cause notice to the Petitioner and later suspended him without giving any reasons thereby failing in its constitutional obligation to guide and protect the judicial officers," it is contended.

Interestingly, the petitioner had, in November 2021, convicted and sentenced a man to life imprisonment for sexual assault of a minor after having heard the case for one day.

In his plea before the top court, Rai alleged that he had received death threats after he passed that order.

"Institutional bias against the petitioner as the judgements of the petitioner in Spl. POCSO Case No. 01/2022 giving capital punishment to the accused Md. Major in four working days of trial and in Spl. POCSO Case No. 36/2021 giving punishment of life imprisonment in one working day of trial had caught immense media attention and was widely reported and appreciated by the government as well as by the public," the plea stated.

It was also pointed out the suspension order and pending disciplinary proceedings against him did not record any reasons and has led to mental pain "as he stands condemned for an action that otherwise garnered the praise of the State."

He further contended that as per Rule 6 (7) of the Bihar Judicial Service (Classification, Control & Appeal) Rules of 2020, his suspension ought to be revoked by now as no chargesheet has been framed till date.

It was also noted that the judge had in another case issued a death sentence after hearing a case for four days. During the previous hearing, the apex court had observed in this context,

"We have been trying to devise methods to assess mitigating factors on death sentence and they have to see the prison records. Here, this judge has passed death sentence in 4 days."

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Sentencing cannot be on the same day: Supreme Court issues notice in Bihar POCSO judge appeal against suspension

[Follow our coverage of today's hearing]

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