New Delhi: The Supreme Court Tuesday said acquittal of an accused in a criminal case does not debar their employer from proceeding in the exercise of disciplinary jurisdiction.
A bench of Justices D.Y. Chandrachud and Surya Kant said: “Unlike a criminal prosecution where the charge has to be established beyond reasonable doubt, in a disciplinary proceeding, a charge of misconduct has to be established on a preponderance of probabilities.
“The rules of evidence which apply to a criminal trial are distinct from those which govern a disciplinary enquiry. The acquittal of the accused in a criminal case does not debar the employer from proceeding in the exercise of disciplinary jurisdiction.”
Noting that disciplinary proceeding is an enquiry into an allegation of misconduct by an employee which results in violation of service rules, the bench said: “In the exercise of judicial review, the court does not act as an appellate forum over the findings of the disciplinary authority.
“The court does not re-appreciate the evidence on the basis of which the finding of misconduct has been arrived at in the course of a disciplinary enquiry.”
The top court allowed an appeal by the Karnataka government challenging the state High Court’s Kalaburagi bench order passed in November 2017. Counsel V.N. Raghupathy represented the Karnataka government in the top court.
The high court had then set aside a decision for compulsory retirement of Umesh, a village accountant in Bijapur district, on a charge of bribery, observing that the accused had been acquitted in the criminal case.
But the apex court said: “The acquittal of the respondent in the course of the criminal trial did not impinge upon the authority of the disciplinary authority or the finding of misconduct in the disciplinary proceeding.”
It held that the division bench of the high court exceeded its jurisdiction under Article 226 and trenched upon a domain which falls within the disciplinary jurisdiction of the employer. “The enquiry was conducted in accordance with the principles of natural justice. The findings of the inquiry officer and the disciplinary authority are sustainable with reference to the evidence which was adduced during the enquiry,” it added.
The top court noted that the Karnataka Administrative Tribunal having exercised the power of judicial review found no reason to interfere with the award of punishment of compulsory retirement.