Allahabad HC Raises The Bar

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Tough verdict The HC decision has divided the legal fraternity
Tough verdict The HC decision has divided the legal fraternity. Photo: Brijesh Jaiswal

Never before in the history of Indian judiciary have so many probationary judicial officers been dismissed on charges of misconduct. On 16 September, the Allahabad high court showed the exit door to 11 officers of the Provincial Judicial Service for misbehaving with a female colleague and indulging in a drunken brawl.

“Such kind of drastic action is unprecedented in the history of judicial services in India,” says Chandra Bhushan Pandey, former president of the All-India Judicial Officers Association. “The incident of fighting inside the hotel and the premises of the judicial training and research institute was never pre-planned. It was due to the spur of the moment and young blood got inflamed and the clash ensued. Sacking the probationers is too harsh and the high court could have extended their probation period.”

In its recommendation to the governor, the high court remarked: “These trainee judicial officers are not fit for becoming judges.” While accepting the recommendation, the state government issued the order for sacking the 11 judicial officers who were undergoing training at the Judicial Training and Research Institute (JTRI) in Lucknow.

In 2012, 74 trainee judges, including 22 women, were selected through the State Judicial Services Exam. During a party held at a Lucknow hotel on 7 September to celebrate the completion of their training, some of them allegedly misbehaved with a female colleague and later indulged in a drunken brawl. Their acts of indiscretion were caught on CCTV camera. The hotel management informed the police about the incident, which was brought to the notice of Chief Justice DV Chandrachud.

The high court set up a nine-member committee headed by the chief justice to probe the incident. According to a preliminary report, 40 judicial officers on probation were said to be involved in the fighting. On 16 September, the committee recommended the dismissal of 11 officers.

The high court also transferred three additional directors of JTRI with immediate effect. As a result, Mahboob Ali has been appointed as the new director of the institute.

Uttar Pradesh Lokayukta Justice (retd) NK Mehrotra defended the high court decision, saying, “Was it a petty crime committed by the probationary judicial officers who indulged in a drunken brawl at a public place?

“If this is how they behave during probation, then what would they do when they occupy the exalted position of a judge? There cannot be double standards of conduct by a judicial officer — one at the public place and another inside the courtroom. Are such persons fit to serve as judicial officers, many of whom would have reached to the higher echelons of the judiciary — the high court?”

Meanwhile, sources said that some Cabinet ministers tried to exert pressure on Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav to reject the high court’s recommendation, but in vain.

“It is true that the state government, exercising its power on behalf of the governor, is the appointing authority of the judicial officers who enter the service through Provincial Civil Service (Judicial),” says Justice Mehrotra. Under Article 217 of the Constitution, the high court has the power of supervision and administrative control over the state judicial service. Even if the CM had returned the file to the high court for reconsideration, he would have to endorse the proposal after the high court’s reiteration of its earlier recommendation.”

According to legal sources, there is little prospect of the sacked officers getting any relief from the apex court.

“The process of selection comes to an end when the probation is over and the officers prove their suitability for the job by their conduct and performance. A judicial officer cannot have two conducts,” says an officer of the Higher Judicial Service. “The sacked officers are unlikely to get the benefit of protection under Article 309 as they were on probation. So, they can’t claim that they were sacked without any disciplinary proceedings.

“It is a clinical action with no emotion involved. This episode will not only be quoted in future across India, but also go down in history as a milestone in defining the standards of public conduct for judicial officers.”

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