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Honorable acquittal in criminal case does not have any bearing on departmental inquiries: Supreme Court

The Supreme Court, in Management of Bharat Heavy Electricals Ltd. v. M. Mani (Civil Appeal No.10766 of 2013) reiterated that an acquittal by a criminal court does not have bearing on departmental proceedings and domestic inquires since the standard of proof required for both the situations are different.

A bench of Justice RK Agarwal and Abhay Mohan Sapre was hearing appeals filed by Bharat Heavy Electricals Ltd. challenging the decision of the Division Bench of the High Court of Judicature at Madras which reinstated the employees with continuity of service and other attendant benefits but without payment of back wages.

The respondents were employees of the Bharat Heavy Electricals Ltd. and were dismissed from service after departmental enquiry by the Enquiry Officer. Subsequent to the dismissal of the departmental appeals, criminal case was instituted against the respondents which ended in them being acquitted. Armed with the order of acquittal, the respondent challenged their dismissal before the Labour Officer. The Labour Officer, in spite of finding that the departmental proceedings were rightly held, ordered for the reinstatement of the respondents along with back wages since the respondents were acquitted in the criminal case. The Appellant preferred writ petition before the High Court. The Single Judge, however, remanded the case to the Labour Court to decide the case afresh on merits. The Single judge reasoned that once the departmental enquiries were found to be properly held, the only question that remained for the Labour Court to consider was the quantum of punishment. The Division bench, however, set aside the order of the Single Judge and directed for the reinstatement of the respondents.

The Supreme Court, allowing the appeal filed by the Bharat Heavy Electricals Ltd, observed that even though the Single Judge had rightly observed that the departmental proceedings were legal and proper, the Judge ought to have examined the question of quantum of punishment instead of remanding the case for fresh consideration to the labour court without properly referring the question that is to be decided by the Labour Court.

Rebutting the arguments advanced by Advocates M. A Chinnaswamy and M. K. Parwez, that in light of the honorable acquittal by the criminal court, the respondents ought to be reinstated along with back wages, the Court held that even an honorable acquittal does not have any bearing in departmental proceedings.

The Court reasoned that, the standard of proof required in a domestic enquiry was preponderance of probabilities and that in criminal case the standard of proof required is beyond reasonable doubt. Consequently, the dismissal of the employees was upheld.

Senior Counsel P.S Patwalia appeared for the Appellants.

Read the judgment below:


Supreme Court image by Legaleagle86 [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

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