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“Judicial Officer required to maintain absolute integrity”, Madras HC upholds dismissal of Judge for misconduct
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“Judicial Officer required to maintain absolute integrity”, Madras HC upholds dismissal of Judge for misconduct

Meera Emmanuel

A Division Bench of the Madras High Court recently upheld the dismissal of a Madurai-based Judicial Magistrate for misconduct. The Bench of Justices R Subbiah and C Saravanan observed, inter alia,

The petitioner, as a Judicial Officer, is required to maintain absolute integrity and honesty in discharge of his functions and when the charges levelled and proved are related to his integrity in discharge of his duties, we are not in a position to appreciate the submission made by the counsel for the petitioner that the punishment imposed on the petitioner is unwarranted and excessive.”

The Court also observed that there was no scope for interference in the instant case since the magistrate had been dismissed after following due procedure and affording him sufficient opportunity to defend himself. The Bench noted,

“…it cannot be said that the order passed by the second respondent is the one without any evidence.  Even otherwise, all the procedural formalities have been adhered to and therefore, the interference of this Court is not warranted against the decision taken by the respondents.”

Background

In this case, Judicial Magistrate KV Mahendra Boopathi was dismissed from service in June last year by the High Court, after a Full Court approved an administrative committee’s resolution recommending dismissal from service on two charges of misconduct.

One charge pertained to a phonecall made by Boopathi to an advocate. The judge was accused of having used unparliamentary language in an inebriated condition while making this call. The second charge concerned an accusation that Boopathi had made an inappropriate phone call to a person accused in a criminal case posted before him.

Before the Division Bench, the counsel appearing for Boopathi argued that the hasty dismissal was based on vague and flimsy reasons. With regard to the first charge, it was argued that the phonecall was made to the advocate only to scold him for having obstructed Boopathi from discharging his functions. As for the second charge, it was pointed out that the recipient of the phonecall was also the panchayat President. The Court was told that the phonecall was only made to raise concern regarding the clearance of certain thorny bushes from the Court premises.

It was further contended that in the absence of any alternate appellate remedy against the disciplinary action, Article 226 of the Constitution could be invoked for the High Court to re-apprecate the facts of the case. In this regard, reliance was placed on the case of V Seetharaman v. Registrar General, High Court, High Court Buildings, Chennai.

High Court cannot interfere with Disciplinary Order passed after following due procedure

However, the High Court Bench found that this was not a case where Article 226 could be appropriate invoked. Relying on the Supreme Court’s judgment in High Court of Judicature at Bombay through its Registrar v. Udaysingh and others, the Court observed,

“.., this Court, under Article 226 of The Constitution of India, has no power to trench on the jurisdiction of the disciplinary authority and to appreciate the evidence.  All that is permissible is to ensure that the conclusion arrived at is based on evidence supporting the finding or whether the conclusion is based on no evidence.”

The Bench proceeded to explain,

It is true that there is no appeal remedy available to the petitioner and the only remedy is to file a writ petition under Article 226 of The Constitution of India.  At the same time, in exercise of the powers conferred under Article 226 of The Constitution of India, this Court can interfere with the order of the disciplinary authority or the appointing authority only if the order was passed based on no evidence or the evidence considered for such conclusion is irrelevant.  In the instant case, there is ample evidence made available against the petitioner to prove the charges…

Therefore, it cannot be said that the conclusion arrived at by the respondents is based on no evidence or the consideration is based on irrelevant material records.  In other words, the exercise of power under Article 226 of The Constitution of India can be invoked to the limited extent to ensure whether the order is passed in accordance with established procedures contemplated under law.  When the procedural process preceded the order of dismissal passed against the petitioner, this Court cannot interfere with the same.”

Further, the Bench also observed that it could not interfere with the quantum of punishment imposed on the Magistrate, unless it is so disproportionate that it shocks the Court’s conscience. In this regard, the following observation of the Supreme Court in Union of India and others v. P Gunasekaran was cited,

“…it was not open to the High Court, in exercise of its jurisdiction under Articles 226/227 of The Constitution of India, to go into the proportionality of punishment so long as the punishment does not shock the conscience of the Court.”

In view of these observations, the High Court rejected Boopathi’s plea challenging his dismissal from service, holding that

Applying the above observation of the Honourable Supreme Court to the facts of the case, we do not see that the punishment imposed on the petitioner is disproportionate.  The said punishment does not shock the conscience of this Court.”