Supreme Court: Acquittal in Heinous/ Serious Offences on Benefit of Doubt Cannot Make Candidate Eligible for Public Employment
The Supreme Court (SC) ruled in the case titled State of Rajasthan (Appellants) v. Love Kush Meena (Respondent/ Accused), that acquittal based on a benefit of the doubt in case of heinous or serious nature of offense cannot make the candidate eligible for public employment.
The SC bench comprising of Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and R. Subhash Reddy noted that the instant matter cannot fall under the category of a clean acquittal of the accused person. It added that the Trial Court correctly used the expression 'benefit of doubt' regarding the acquittal of the accused.
The factual matrix of the instant case is that the respondent had cleared the recruitment of a constable in the Rajasthan Police Service. He was not appointed as he was tried in a criminal case.
Although, he was acquitted the charges against him were not of a trivial nature but were serious offences, and the candidate was not acquitted based on 'benefit of doubt'.
The respondent approached the Rajasthan High Court (HC) against the order of the Trial Court. The writ petition was allowed by the HC wherein the Court observed that there was no cogent evidence connecting the accused person to the commission of the offense and hence he was not disentitled for appointment to the post of a constable.
An appeal was filed by the Appellant State before the Top Court. It referred to the judgment of the case titled- Avtar Singh v. Union of India, wherein this Court summarized the principles to be followed by Employers while dealing with issues related to the suppression of information or submitting false information in the verification form by employees/candidates as to the question of having been criminally prosecuted, arrested or as to pendency of a criminal case.
The Apex Court gave the following summary of the judgment of the Avatar Singh's Case (Supra)-
(a) The employer shall take into consideration the government orders/instructions/rules, applicable to the employee, at the time of taking the decision.
(b) If acquittal had already been recorded in a case involving moral turpitude or offence of heinous/serious nature, on technical ground and it is not a case of clean acquittal, or benefit of reasonable doubt has been given, the employer may consider all relevant facts available as to antecedents and may take an appropriate decision as to the continuance of the employee.
(c) A declaration by the employee mentioning of a concluded criminal case, even then the employer has the right to consider antecedents, and cannot be compelled to appoint the candidate.
(d) In case when fact has been truthfully declared in character verification form regarding pendency of a criminal case of trivial nature, the employer, in facts and circumstances of the case, in its discretion may appoint the candidate subject to the decision of such case.
(e) If an employee deliberately suppresses a fact of multiple pending cases against such false information by itself will assume significance and an employer may pass appropriate order canceling candidature or terminating services as the appointment of a person against whom multiple criminal cases were pending may not be proper.
(f) If the candidate is not aware of a criminal case pending against him at the time of filling the form, even though it would have an adverse impact and the employer would decide after considering the seriousness of the offense employee is charged for.
(g) If the employee's service is confirmed even then the department may conduct an inquiry that would be necessary for passing the order of termination/removal or dismissal on the ground of suppression or submitting false information in a verification form.
(h) If in case the information that is not sought for however the same has relevance and it comes to knowledge of the employer the same can be considered objectively while addressing the question of fitness. But no action would be taken based on suppression or submitting false information as to a fact that was not even asked for.
(i) Before a person is held guilty of suppressio veri or suggestio falsi, knowledge of the fact must be attributable to him.
The SC bench held that "Giving benefit of doubt would not entitle a candidate for appointment, despite the circular, the impugned decision of the competent authority cannot be said to suffer from infirmity as violating the circular when it conforms with the law laid down by this Court."
The Apex Court while allowing the appeal to set aside the orders of the lower Court and the HC, concluded that "The impugned orders cannot be sustained and the appellants are well within their rights to have issued the order."