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This article has been written by Raslin Saluja, from KIIT School of Law, Bhubaneswar.  In this article, the author deconstructs the approach taken by the court in the case of Sanny Kumar v. State of UP & Ors.

Introduction 

Evidence, as defined under Section 3 of the Evidence Act, 1872, refers to statements made in relation to facts under inquiry, permitted by the court or required to be made before a witness. It also includes documentary evidence including electronic records produced for inspection. Evidence law is a very significant part of criminal law that guides and makes ways for the proper discovery of facts and drawing of inference based on reason and logic. It not only is vast but also has wide interpretations and interpretations which help the court serve their purpose.

The role of Evidence Law in every criminal inquiry 

Criminal inquiry initiates every proceeding to extract valuable information and reach a conclusion. Under Cr.P.C, it includes events and incidents taking place around the offense and the people who are witness to it. It helps in linking the supposed facts and corroborating the word of mouth. Thus, evidence law acts as an instrument on which the inquiry or investigation can be based. They are the outcome of the inquiry and in turn help in establishing a crime is committed by someone. 

For that purpose, the evidence law provides for the distinction between various shreds of evidence and their admissibility and the standard of proof to eliminate any uncertainty. It provides for basic principles and rules relating to the collection of evidence. Often the judge’s decision is assisted by way of evidence placed before the court in the trial to support one’s legal position and therefore evidence law is essential to regulate the process of proof. It is an adjective law concerned with the method of investigation and collection of evidence, thereby guiding the criminal inquiry at every step.

An analysis of the case of Sanny Kumar v. State of UP & Ors

There was an opening for various posts in the U.P Police department which was initiated by a notification dated 14.01.2018. The petitioner, in this case, had applied for the opening and was selected for appointment for the post of Constable in the UP Police. As part of the application process, the petitioner had made a declaration disclosing the criminal cases against him on the basis of which he was denied the appointment. Aggrieved by the order of Superintendent of Police, Jalaun cancelling the appointment for the post, the petitioner filed a writ petition in the Allahabad High Court.

The contention of the parties 

The petitioner submitted that he did his duty of truthfully disclosing and declaring details of all the criminal cases pending against him in the affidavit of verification. He argued that the authority has not considered any standard of evidence in relation to those cases before canceling the appointment. He asserted that he had not been charge-sheeted in two cases, one of which is an offshoot of a matrimonial dispute of his brother. He further submitted that he was acquitted in one criminal case and in the court, an appointment can be refused.

The Standing Counsel for the State of UP, the respondents on the other hand submitted that the Petitioner was named in multiple criminal cases. And in the first case, his acquittal by the trial court was not honourable. He was named in the FIR lodged in the other cases including one for an act of moral turpitude. 

It was submitted that the fact that not being charge-sheeted by the Investigating Officer does not relieve the petitioner of the alleged accusation, particularly, when trials are on foot. And that decision of the authority was given in full consideration of all facts in deeming the petitioner’s criminal profile unfit for an appointment.

Findings of the court

At the outset, the Bench observed that the police is a disciplined force referring to the case Commissioner of Police, New Delhi v. Mehar Singh, which is charged with the duty to uphold the law and order in the State. Those people instil great faith and confidence in such authorities and therefore the candidates must be worthy of that trust to be able to uphold the integrity of themselves as well as the department. Thus, personnel in uniform belonging to disciplined forces, are expected to bear impeccable character and possess unimpeachable integrity.

In this backdrop, the court was of the view that examining the suitability of candidates for appointment is a very significant part of the recruitment process. An important factor for the determination of such suitability is the role of criminal antecedents as mentioned in the case B.Ramakrishna Yadav v. The Superintendent of Police, which is accepted as reliable guides for assessing character traits in the evaluation of suitability.

Evidence for consideration for scope of inquiry

It was stated that the nature and procedure of inquiry have to be based on the purpose, subject matter of proceedings, the rights involved, material for consideration, and consequences of the decision. And all the materials placed before the authority has to be taken into consideration before being discarded, be it reliable and conclusive, or credible but probative. This includes the FIR, the evidence collected during the investigation, the charge sheet submitted, evidence during the trial, and the judgment by the court of law.

The court was of the view that appointment by way of the recruitment process is an administrative decision and determining the suitability of a candidate for an appointment is a part of it. The process of evaluating suitability for an appointment is not an adjudication of guilt or innocence as in a criminal case. Nor is it a quasi-judicial process or a civil law proceeding.

Assessment of material or evidence

The High Court held that competent authority is not always bound by the findings of the court, nor is it invariably constrained by the opinion of the investigation officer. The reason for the same is as follows:

  1. There is a difference in rationale between the stages of criminal law and the departmental inquiry. Criminal prosecution of an individual before the court of law is to bring an offender of criminal laws to justice and to punish the guilty. The object of the competent authority in a recruitment process is only to determine the suitability of a candidate to hold a public post. Further the former has to adhere to strict rules of evidence beyond reasonable doubt but the latter is not restricted by such terms.
  2. Further, even if acquittal might be given by the criminal court when evidence is not sufficient, it does not reduce the probative value it holds while placed before a competent authority in the recruitment process. It may still contribute to rendering the suitability of the applicant. And herein acquittal on the basis of witness turning hostile is not honourable and does not lead to an automatic discharge in the recruitment proceeding. The court emphasized the case of R.P Kapur v Union of India while making this point. Thus the relevant facts need to be taken into consideration even in cases where acquittal is granted.
  3. Moving to the charge sheet argument, it was said that even if a clean chit is given by an investigating officer, it ipso facto does not create a right for appointment. The opinion of the competent authority may vary from the investigating officer based on the material placed before them during the process and it will be subjective based on the facts of the case.

Procedure of inquiry

The principles of natural justice have to be consistently followed while making administrative decisions. All the judicial and procedural safeguards must be adhered to if the decision rather seems unreasonable and arbitrary. And so all the materials placed of evidentiary value must be considered. Further referring to the case of Avtar Singh v Union of India, it pondered on the effects of the line of inquiry as to consequences of false declaration and its verification on the recruitment process.

The aggravating and mitigating factors in the line of inquiry

As for aggravating factors which demand all the way more focus and attention, the Court said:

  1. The gravity and the nature of heinous crimes involving moral turpitude have to be taken into consideration.
  2. Another factor includes the count of criminal prosecutions which tend to bring out the criminal traits or vice and violence in the candidate. How often the candidate indulges in criminal activity and of what kind hints at the details of their character. Which in turn assist in determining the suitability, as these qualities are not conducive to holding public office. The material in the record should strongly be of potential to support the inference of the above-mentioned matters.

Mitigating factors that reduce the criminality of the offense, should also be considered while on the line of inquiry:

  1. Often humans are likely to make errors and so cases of human fallibility are excused from that which suggests criminal traits.
  2. Those acts that are done in youth indiscretion are different from having depraved conduct or criminal mindset and full weightage should be given to the circumstances while dealing with trivial offences as committed by the candidate may not prima facie lead to their invalidation for the post. 
  3. The authority should also take care of the social realities of life and backgrounds along with the pace of the judicial process and its factors.
  4. They have to be alert in situations where candidates might be falsely framed which is a common sight especially in villages, and cases might remain pending for long.

Judgment

The court observed that the competent authority had not erred in its decision. The method adopted by the competent authority was consistent with the principles of natural justice. There was no procedural impropriety while determining the case. It was of the opinion that the previous acquittal does not warrant a mitigating factor for the case of the petitioner and that the acquittal, in that case, was not an honourable one. Further, the facts of moral turpitude, registration of FIR, and being accused of a sexual offence against minor children cannot be taken lightly at any cost. That the competent authority was well within its power to vary from the investigating officer in the matter of the charge sheet. 

The court further opined on the fact that these cases being instituted by different parties is also essential in reflecting the repetitive criminal conduct of the petitioner deeming him unfit for consideration for the post. All these aggravating circumstances free from irrelevant consideration do not render competent authority faulty in cancelling the petitioner’s appointment. The court submitted that the said order has been well supported by reason based on the evidence placed before the authority and so the petition stands dismissed.

Conclusion 

The procedure and standard of evidence are of utmost importance as they form the framework of the inquiry and further proceedings. They play a pivotal role in legal fact-finding and establishing the circumstances. While meeting the demands of changing dynamics of society and the various questions of law that arise, the courts often dig deeper in reflecting the true essence of the statutory law. Thereby, tweaking the law as and when required. 

Thus, this has led us to one of the major key takeaways from the present case which is that as long as the procedure and standards of evidence are well adhered to, the court shall not interfere even if the authority’s decision may vary with that of the investigating officer like in the present case. Based on the aforementioned reasons and the merits of the present case, the court upheld the authority’s decisions.

References


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