This article is written by Niharika Agrawal, pursuing B.B.A.L.L.B from IFIM Law School. This comprehensive article deals with the analysis of the recent judgment by the Supreme Court in the case of the State of Rajasthan vs. Love Kush Meena with regards to the acquittal based on the benefit of the doubt.
According to the general perspective, no person is guilty unless proven to be. Similarly, under law, no person is guilty unless and until not proven to be beyond a reasonable doubt. This concept in the legal term is known as ‘Benefit of the doubt’. Under this concept, the defendant is considered to be acquitted by the court if his or her offence has not been established, which means when the prosecution fails to provide the legal evidence against the defendant or an accused of the offence he or she has committed. In criminal cases, all the allegations need to be proven beyond all the reasonable doubts that an ordinary man can have. No such doubt should occur whether an accused is guilty or not. Even if the slightest doubt is observed, no matter how small it is, an accused gets the benefit.
It is important to know whether an acquittal who is charged for heinous crimes is eligible for public employment under the benefit of the doubt. This was decided in the latest landmark judgement of the case State of Rajasthan v. Love Kush Meena (2021).
An analysis of the case of State of Rajasthan v. Love Kush Meena
In the instant case, one of the respondents has committed the murder of the appellant’s aunt in the field and along with his other members has also injured the appellant by hurting them through knives. Later, the accused were charged with criminal offences under Section 302, 323, 341, and 34 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 [IPC]. After the investigation, a charge sheet was filed against the accused to which the accused denied all the charges. Later, it was observed by the learned judge that the prosecution has failed to demonstrate the case against all the accused beyond reasonable doubts.
On the other hand, there was a notification regarding the recruitment for the post of constable in the Rajasthan Police Services. The respondent had applied for the same and was successful in the recruitment process. But after verification by the police Superintendent, the respondent was issued with a letter stating ineligibility for the aforesaid position. As per the letter by the superintendent, it was stated that since the respondent is charged with many serious offences, the respondent is not eligible for the post of constable. Further, after such rejection, the respondent approached the Rajasthan High Court with the civil writ petition, which the court dismissed again in its first-round stating the same reason for being accused of such heinous crimes.
During the second round, the court once referred to the letter/circular given by the police superintendent and the court allowed the petition with the contention that there is no solid evidence of the charges against the accused during the ongoing proceedings and hence he should be allowed participation for the post of constable in Rajasthan police service.
The court pointed out the requirements for the appointment of the said position. The requirements were as follows:
- The person should not be guilty of any criminal offence after the closure report is sent for approval.
- The person should be acquitted by the court (whether under the benefit of the doubt or due to the availability of proof).
- Acquitted or discharged based on compromise.
- Availed the benefit of Section 12 of the Probation of Offenders Act, 1958.
- The person is accused and benefited under Section 15(1)(a) of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015.
Whether the respondent is eligible for the post of constable at Rajasthan Police service (public employment), being involved in criminal cases and acquitted by the court on the grounds of the benefit of the doubt or not?
Legal Provisions involved
- Section 302 of IPC – punishment for the murder.
- Section 323 of IPC – punishment for voluntarily causing hurt.
- Section 341 of IPC – punishment for wrongful restraint.
- Section 34 of IPC – an act done by several persons having a common intention.
- Section 12 of Probation of the Offenders Act – removal of disqualification attaching to conviction.
Contentions of parties to the case
Contentions of the appellant (State of Rajasthan)
In the argument by the appellant counsel, he referred to the case of Avtar Singh v. Union of India and Ors. (2016) where the court has put forth the parameters for such cases. According to this case, it was pointed out that:
- The employer should adhere to the government orders before making any decisions.
- If the acquitted is involved in any criminal offence or heinous nature then the employer should undertake all the relevant facts of the case while deciding the employee’s work.
The counsel for the appellant has also referred to other cases in which the courts have together opined as follows:
- A hon’ble acquittal does not mean that the accused was falsely involved or did not have any criminal background.
- For the post under police service, the candidate needs to have good character or should have integrity and clean antecedents.
- Also, it was contended that the employer should take into consideration the job profile for selection and the severity of the charges put forth against the candidate.
- It is important to know whether the acquittal of the candidate was a hon’ble acquittal or just the ground of reasonable doubt or is done with the mala-fide intention.
- Hence, an acquittal of a criminal case cannot be part of police service.
Contentions of the respondent
The counsel for the respondent had supported his arguments with the various other precedents. According to such cases, the following points were referred by the counsel:
- In a case where there is a hon’ble acquittal, the accused should be granted relief.
- It was also contended that the employment opportunity is rarely available in the country having a huge number of participants applying there. At such an opportunity there cannot be such mechanical and rhetorical formulas.
- Such cases need to be observed based on the facts of the case, the level of charges against the accused, etc.
- The counsel has also contended that in the instant case there has been a huge lapse of time between the offence committed and the recruitment process and the respondent was also successful in his competitive examination years ago.
- Since there is no solid proof against the accused and the accused is acquitted by the court on the ground of benefit of the doubt, the respondent should grant relief to be eligible for the position in the State of Rajasthan Police service.
Findings of the court
- According to the court of justice, the offence under Section 302/34 of IPC is non-compoundable, and therefore it was difficult for the court to consider this case as a clean acquittal. The judge thus had the right to terminate the benefit of the doubt in such acquittal cases.
- Referring to the case of aforementioned Avtar Singh, the court was of the view that where there is a heinous or such serious nature of crime and the acquittal has relied on the reasonable doubt, the candidate cannot be eligible on such acquittal.
- The court opined that the employer should take into consideration all the government rules, orders, and instructions that apply to the employee before the selection process.
Similar case laws
In the case of Union Territory, Chandigarh Administration & Ors. v. Pradeep Kumar & Anr. (2018), the scope of the term “hon’ble acquittal” was explained. According to the Supreme Court, any person acquitted in a criminal case is not eligible for the candidature of the concerned post. It was also observed that it is not always necessary that an acquitted or discharged person was falsely involved and has no criminal antecedent or background. Hence, the candidate cannot take the benefit of the case unless and until it’s the hon’ble acquittal.
Further, in the case of the Inspector General of Police v. S. Samuthiram (2012), the hon’ble acquittal was defined as an accused who is acquitted after full consideration of the prosecution evidence and prosecution has miserably failed to prove the charges levelled against the accused, such accused was considered as hon’ble acquitted. It was specifically pointed out by the court that to enter police service, a candidate needs to be of good character, integrity, and clean antecedent. It was also opined at the end that any acquittal charged in a criminal case is not entitled as a candidate for the appointment of the said post, as such persons are not considered to be fit in the category.
The Apex Court has observed that an accused who is acquitted on the ground of the heinous or serious nature of crime is not eligible to have the benefit or opportunity to join public employment. Hence, in the instant case, though there was no solid evidence against the respondent and the respondent was acquitted by the Court under reasonable doubt, the court disentitled for the appointment of the post of constable. Also, the Supreme Court, by rejecting the appeal, stated that for being a part of the police service the person needs to be of good character, should have integrity and a clean background. One of the most important things that the court herein has stated is that the employer should follow all the rules and guidelines of the government before the selection process of an employee.
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