Judge can’t be punished: SC
New Delhi, March 3
Amid questions being raised over the Jessica Lall murder case judgement delivered by Justice S.L. Bhayana before his elevation to the Delhi High Court from the post of additional sessions judge and the President recently returning the file regarding his confirmation, the Supreme Court in a significant ruling has laid down that no judge can be punished for “erroneous or wrong” judgements.

A three-judge Bench, headed by Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan, held that if disciplinary actions were taken against a judge for an “erroneous or wrong” judgement, it would ultimately harm “our judicial system... and cause greater damage to the administration of justice”.

The Bench with Justices Lokeshwer Singh Panta and D.K. Jain as the other two judges, said “fearlessness and maintenance of judicial independence are essential for an efficacious judicial system. Making adverse comments against subordinate judicial officers and subjecting them to severe disciplinary proceedings will ultimately harm the judicial system at the grassroots level.”

Though recognising that there is always a chance of a wrong judgement being passed by a judge and even the legal system of the country “acknowledges fallibility” of judges, the CJI writing the judgement for the Bench said merely for this reason a judge could not be put under “psychological pressure”.

The judicial system of the country was built in a manner that if any wrong was committed in a judgement, a procedure had been laid down for correction by the appellate courts right up to the Supreme Court, the apex court held.

The court said any disciplinary action could only be initiated if “prima facie” material had been produced to show that a judge was guided by any “extraneous” factors or considerations and he had shown recklessness or misconduct in discharge of his duties or had acted in a manner to unduly favour a party or had passed an order actuated by corrupt motive, but holding such a view without proof was dangerous for the judiciary.

The judgement came on an appeal of additional sessions judge (ASJ) Ramesh Chander Singh from Jhansi in Madhya Pradesh who had granted bail to a college student, Ram Pal, in a murder case in 1996 on the grounds that his father had suffered a heart attack and the two co-accused had already been granted bail earlier.

However, a brother of the victim filed a complaint against Singh that he was paid Rs 80,000 by Ram Pal’s father for getting the bail, rejected three times earlier. 

Though the MP High Court inquiry committee, headed by a sitting judge, found no truth in the allegation of bribery against ASG Singh, yet it held that the bail was granted in “utter disregard of judicial norms and on insufficient grounds and based on extraneous consideration with oblique motive”.

However, the apex court found that the inquiry judge’s report had not said a word about what was the oblique motive or extraneous consideration involved and as a result the ASJ was demoted a rank below to the post of civil judge.

Finding no material on record against the ASJ, the court ordered his reinstatement to the elevated post of District Judge with all consequential benefits..

However, at the same time, it remit the case back to the MP High Court Chief Justice to place it before the “full court” Bench which was only competent to decide the question of punishment, if any, required to be imposed on him for any other reason than the judicial verdict given by him.



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