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Arun Kumar Gupta Vs. State of Jharkhand and Ors. - (Supreme Court) (27 Feb 2020)

Integrity of judicial officer must be of a higher order and even a single aberration is not permitted

MANU/SC/0231/2020

Service

Present writ petitions have been filed by two erstwhile judicial officers who were members of the judicial service in the State of Jharkhand and are directed against the orders whereby they have been compulsorily retired.

Challenge is laid in both writ petitions to the orders of compulsory retirement and especially to the reasons assigned or the material ignored by the Screening Committee. The orders of compulsory retirement have been passed in terms of the Rule 74(b)(ii) of the Jharkhand Service Code, 2001. The main contentions raised on behalf of the Petitioners are that their retirement is not in the public interest: their entire service record especially the contemporaneous record has not been taken into consideration.

The standard of integrity and probity expected from judicial officers is much higher than that expected from other officers. In Chandra Singh v. State of Rajasthan, though this Court came to the conclusion that the compulsory retirement awarded to the applicant was not in consonance with the law, it did not give relief to the Petitioner on the ground that even under Article 235 of the Constitution of India, 1950 the High Court can assess the performance of any judicial officer at any time with a view to discipline the black sheep or weed out the dead wood.

An order directing compulsory retirement of a judicial officer is not punitive in nature. An order directing compulsory retirement of a judicial officer has no civil consequences. While considering the case of a judicial officer for compulsory retirement the entire record of the judicial officer should be taken into consideration, though the latter and more contemporaneous record must be given more weightage. Subsequent promotions do not mean that earlier adverse record cannot be looked into while deciding whether a judicial officer should be compulsorily retired. The 'washed off' theory does not apply in case of judicial officers specially in respect of adverse entries relating to integrity.

The Courts should exercise their power of judicial review with great circumspection and restraint keeping in view the fact that compulsory retirement of a judicial officer is normally directed on the recommendation of a high-powered committee(s) of the High Court. A judicial officer's integrity must be of a higher order and even a single aberration is not permitted. As far as the present cases are concerned, the matter has been considered by the Screening Committee on two occasions and the recommendations of the Screening Committee have been accepted by the Standing Committee on both occasions. The action taken is not by one officer or Judge, it is a collective decision, first by the Screening Committee and then approved by the Standing Committee.

Senior judges of the High Court who were the members of the Screening Committee and Standing Committee have taken a considered and well-reasoned decision. Unless there are allegations of mala fides or the facts are so glaring that the decision of compulsory retirement is unsupportable this Court would not exercise its power of judicial review. In such matters, the court on the judicial side must exercise restraint before setting aside the decision of such collective bodies comprising of senior High Court Judges. Both the writ petitions are dismissed.

Relevant : Chandra Singh v. State of Rajasthan MANU/SC/0479/2003

Tags : COMPULSORY RETIREMENT   PUBLIC INTEREST   LEGALITY  

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