OPINION: The need for a higher degree of integrity for judges
Being bound by the Constitution, the Supreme Court does not wish to wash off its hands like Peelathose (Biblical reference) and goes on to make doubly sure with regard to the appointment of a man accused of moral turpitude even though he was acquitted by the trial Court.
Judiciary, being the last resort for all persons, there is no need to emphasize the importance of this strongest pillar of democracy, during times of challenge which the institution itself is facing from all other quarters. The Hon’ble Supreme Court on last Friday was posed with the challenge to test itself on the touchstone laid down by the very many good men who chaired the institution over so many years.
While hearing a Special Leave Petition filed by one Mohammed Imran challenging the Order of the High Court of Bombay which had rejected his writ petition (WP (C) 2848 of 2013 of the High Court of Bombay) wherein he had questioned the rejection of his application to the post of Civil Judge Junior Division and Judicial Magistrate First Class, the Hon’ble Court, comprising of Justices Kurian Joseph and Mohan Shantanagoudar was pleased to observe that the men who are supposed to chair the seat of judges need to be aloof of any allegation, so that the institution could inspire confidence on the people who approach the institution as the last resort.
The petitioner in the SLP had cleared the selection process for the post of Civil Judge Junior Division and Judicial Magistrate First Class in the state but was denied appointment on the ground of moral turpitude as he was prosecuted under sections 363 and 366 of Indian Penal Code, 1860. The Petitioner challenged the administrative decision before the Hon’ble High Court at Bombay claiming that he was acquitted by the trial court of the charges against him as he has no involvement.
The Hon’ble High Court while dismissing the Writ Petition, observed that according to the prosecution, the petitioner had facilitated the kidnapping of a minor girl who was allegedly raped by the accused no. 1 in the said case (Read judgment below). On a reading of the entire judgment of the Sessions Court, it appears that all three accused were acquitted mainly because the prosecutrix had turned hostile.
The Apex Court was clear on its stand and put a question to the learned senior counsel for the petitioner as to how they could bank on the Joginder Singh Case (2015) 2 SCC 377, which was a case of a constable while here we are dealing with the appointment of a judge. The Court also observed that the petitioner was acquitted because the prosecutrix who once named the accused in her 161 statement turned hostile for the best reasons known to her, which cannot be a ground itself for the appointment.
Nevertheless, the Hon’ble Court in its order (see below) on Friday directed the counsel for the petitioner to verify as to whether there was an appeal against sessions court order. The matter was listed for further consideration to 18.04.2018 and in the meantime directed the Supreme Court registry to call for the confidential report of the Character Verification of the petitioner.
It is true that the facts in the Joginder case cannot be compared with that of the petitioner. It will be drastic to balance responsibilities and expectations on the shoulder of a civil judge with that of a police constable. Appointment to the post of judicial officers requires impeccable character and conduct. An acquittal due to the prosecution witness turning hostile does not mean honourable acquittal. Judges hold their office in public trust and represent state. A bench of Hon’ble Justices RM Lodha and A R Dave while upholding the decision of a Division Bench of the Hon’ble High Court of Madhya Pradesh in the R.C. Chandel case (2012 8 SCC 58), opined “judges should be people of impeccable integrity and any indiscreet act on their part cannot be tolerated”. It is right to say that there should not be any room for compromise in the matters of integrity, honesty of a candidate who aspires the noble profession of a judge. As the oft-quoted aphorism, brought in to common parlance by Lord Chief Justice Hewart in his landmark judgment R. v Sussex Justices, exparte McCarthy  All ER 233 goes “Not only must justice be done, it must also be seen to be done.”
Read the High Court judgment below:Copy of the Judgement Of High Court of Bombay in WP(C) 2848 of 2013-watermark
Read the Supreme Court order below:Copy of Order dated 23.03.2018 in Special Leave to Appeal (C) No(s). 6599 2018-watermark
Krishnadas V. is an advocate practicing at the Supreme Court of India. Views expressed are personal.