This article is written by Abhishek Chaudhary Attri, from UPES, School of Law, Dehradun. The author analyzes a recent judgement by the High Court of Orissa and discusses the necessity of compulsory retirement of judicial officials, in the interest of the public.
In the recent case of Rama Chandra Mohanty, the High Court of Orissa observed the integrity and honesty of a judicial officer and the knowledge of law possessed by such an individual. The Court expressed its views on how both factors are paramount for the career of a judicial officer while discussing the case of compulsory retirement in public interest in correspondence to a judicial officer.
An overview of the case of Rama Chandra Mohanty v. State of Orissa & another
The case was registered as a Civil Writ Petition in the year 2010 and was decided by the single-judge bench of the Orissa High Court at Cuttack, comprising Justice B.P. Routray. The facts of the case are narrated as follows:
The Petitioner was selected for the post of Probationary Munsif on 2 January 1985 at Dhenkanal, Orissa, and was promoted to the Judicial Magistrate of First Class in the year 1987 at Soro, Orissa. While working as a Judicial Magistrate of First Class at Aska, Orissa, the Petitioner was recommended an out-of-turn promotion, as an appreciation for his service by the then Hon’ble Chief Justice of the Orissa High Court in 1992. Hence, in the year 1994, he was promoted as Sub-Divisional Judicial Magistrate (SDJM). In the year 1999, he was promoted as Civil Judge (Senior Division), Kamakhyanagar. While working at Koraput, the Petitioner was directed to retire in public effect from 22 March 2010 vide notification dated 9 March 2010, under the Law Department of the Government of Orissa.
During the tenure of the Petitioner, two departmental proceedings were filed against him. The first Departmental Proceeding was filed in the year 2003 (D.P. No. 9/03) in which five charges were framed relating to the unauthorized retention of Government quarters along with lesser deduction of rent, illegal counting of leave in his leave account in the year 2000-2001, deliberate delay in making payment for the purchase of law journals for Bolangir Judgeship and violation of rules 3 and 4 of the Orissa Government Servant Rules, 1959, amounting to gross misconduct and failure in due discharge of duties. In the Departmental Proceeding in 2004 (D.P. No. 4/07), the Petitioner was charged for availing a loan in the name of his class IV servant and did so without his knowledge and consent. He did not even repay the amount for the same until a complaint was made by the servant.
The Petitioner stated before the Court that apart from the two Departmental proceedings filed against him there was no other adverse entry during his tenure that was communicated to him and pointed out that he was formally cautioned due to the trivial issues at Kamakhyanagar and Dharmagarh. He was not given any opportunity to explain his stance and not even a show-cause notice was issued, and he was removed prematurely as per Rule 44 of the OSJS and OJS Rules, 2007 from his service at the age of 50 in the substantive post of Civil Judge (Sr. Division), inflicting the stigma for no fault of his.
Contentions of the parties to the case
The Petitioner’s counsel contended that during his entire service of 25 years, there were no allegations made with regard to his honesty and integrity. Further, the Petitioner’s performance, competency or efficiency were never doubted and his commendable service was appreciated by the then Hon’ble Chief Justice. He pointed out the fact that the opposing parties had taken a decision of promoting the Petitioner to the cadre of Civil Judge (Sr. Division) on 5 March 2010 and just 26 days later he had to retire prematurely, without any reason and material placed on record.
The Register General of the High Court of Orissa, representing the Respondents, denied the allegations made by the Petitioner and stated that a personal file of the Petitioner was presented before the Court on the administrative side and a unanimous decision was taken consciously considering the Confidential Character Roles (CCR), overall work and conduct of the Petitioner to retire him in accordance with the terms of Rule 44 of the OSJS 2007. The CCR of the Petitioner included several adverse entries which were duly communicated to him from time to time.
These entries had an impact on the integrity of the Petitioner, however, this was not the only factor taken into account, but multiple factors which played an important role in the decision taken. Furthermore, according to rule 44 of the OSJS Act, 2007, there lies no opportunity of hearing or issuing a show-cause notice before the decision is taken. The Petitioner replied that the entries which had an adverse effect on the CCR’s were not communicated in any manner to him and that the information of the existence of such entries was obtained through the RTI application and is advisory and instructive rather than being adverse in nature.
The Respondent submitted that the order in relation to compulsory retirement is neither punitive nor stigmatic and there lies no opportunity for hearing unless the principles of natural justice come into play. The claim made by the Petitioner of no material placed on record was unjustified as apart from the departmental proceedings which constituted grave charges, the entire service record including the CCR’s was taken into account by the Court on the administrative side before the retirement decision was made. Rule 44 of OSJS authorizes the High Court to retire in public interest any member of service who has attained the age of 50 years and according to Article 235 of the Constitution of India, the subordinate courts come under the administrative control of the High Court.
The Respondents focused their argument on the issue that when it comes to the career of the judicial officers, a sole smudge on their service makes them vulnerable as they are expected to portray an ideal character in all respects. The Hon’ble Supreme Court of India laid down the principles in the matter of compulsory retirement in public interest in the case of Baikuntha Nath Das v. Chief District Medical Officer, Baripada (1992). The order explicitly said that compulsory retirement is not some form of punishment and neither implies stigma nor suggests any sort of misbehaviour. The order is passed on the subjective satisfaction of the government. The order cannot be quashed by any court on the basis that such order led to uncommunicated adverse remarks and that the circumstance cannot by itself be a basis for interference, unless and until the principles of natural justice have a place in the context of the order of compulsory retirement.
Observation by the court of law
The Court has made the observations in this matter and stated that the high courts have the administrative jurisdiction over the recommendation on compulsory retirement in the matter of the judicial officials with the rules framed in that regard as discussed by the Hon’ble Supreme Court in the case of Madras v. R. Rajiah(1988). The High Court has a constitutional obligation to protect the judicial officials from being harassed, besides guiding them. In such cases, it becomes mandatory for the court to consider the materials that show the official has served his utility and the decision cannot be arbitrary.
However, the Court has made a statement that the objective of compulsory retirement in the public interest is to weed out the corrupt, dishonest and deadwood. There can be a scenario where a judicial official having sound knowledge of law may possess a dubious character and hence prove to be a danger to the smooth functioning of the judiciary. While going through the career and analyzing the overall performance of judicial officials, the court takes a close look at the performance, especially in recent years.
During the 25 year long career of the Petitioner, it was revealed that he had several complaints received against him from the Judicial Magistrate of First Class in the year 1987 at Soro, Orissa, till the end of his career as Civil Judge (Sr. Division), Koraput. This does not support the contention of the Petitioner that he had an unblemished career. As it is clear that compulsory retirement in the public interest is neither subjective nor punitive and is based upon the subjective satisfaction of the courts, there lies a meagre scope of judicial review available in such cases. Not only were the adverse remarks duly communicated to him, but taking into account the other material on record, the impugned order for compulsory retirement in the public interest was justified.
Judicial officer and the knowledge of the law : an indispensable need
A detailed evaluation of the nature of work that is undertaken by the judicial officials and the circumstances in which they work calls for a very professional approach and an ideal personality with a spotless career record. A judicial officer shall be able to render justice with the best of their ability and shall uphold high ethical standards. The knowledge enables control over the trials and proceedings and thus helps the cases in being decided quickly and efficiently. The nuances of the provision of law enable the person in authority to appreciate and understand the provision applied in the context of different cases.
Honesty and integrity shall not be considered as special characteristics as these are the basic qualities to be found in a judicial officer, and are non-negotiable. Every official bears the responsibility and accountability of the judicial system and any aberration in nature leads to the tarring of the judiciary by the media and the public. Their conduct and behaviour shall be in accordance to maintain the high standard of the judiciary, if not then every act will be magnified thus reducing the faith of the common man in the judiciary.
A career in judicial services is considered one of the prestigious careers one can have in the field of law, but this requires a high standard of professional competency, as the individual is a salient operator of the judiciary. Such a career path calls for the integrity and honesty of the judicial officer, thus helping in maintaining accountability. Any conviction, despite being trivial, can put the career of an individual in question, concerning the requisites. Hence, maintaining a supreme professional record and having competency play an integral part in the career of a judicial officer.
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