No judge can claim that he or she has never passed a “wrong order”, the Supreme Court has said while observing that disciplinary action should not be initiated against a judicial officer merely for passing wrong order unless there is evidence of extraneous reason. Independence of judiciary is “sacrosanct”, and unless there are clear-cut allegations of misconduct, the gratification of any kind and extraneous influences, disciplinary proceedings should not be initiated merely on the ground that a wrong order has been passed by a judicial officer, the apex court said.
“To err is human and not one of us, who has held judicial office, can claim that we have never passed a wrong order,” a bench of justices Deepak Gupta and Aniruddha Bose said in their order passed last week. In a country, which follows the rule of law, independence of the judiciary is sacrosanct. There can be no rule of law, there can be no democracy unless there is a strong, fearless and independent judiciary,” the bench said.
Independence and fearlessness are not only expected at the level of the superior courts but also from the district judiciary as most of the litigants cannot afford to come to the high courts or the Supreme Court, the bench said. “Therefore, it is equally important, if not more important, that the judiciary at the district level and at the taluka level is absolutely honest, fearless and free from any pressure and is able to decide cases only on the basis of the facts on file, uninfluenced by any pressure from any quarters whatsoever,” it said.
The bench made these comments while dealing with a plea filed by a Bihar-based judge, now dead, who had challenged the initiation of disciplinary proceedings against him.
Disciplinary proceedings were initiated against him on two alleged counts — for granting bail to some accused in a murder case despite the fact that their bail petitions were dismissed by the high court and for acquitting an accused in a separate narcotics case and closing the proceedings in “great haste”.
In its order, the bench said that, time and again, the apex court had laid down the criteria on which actions should be taken against judicial officers.
“Repeatedly, this court has cautioned the high courts that action should not be taken against judicial officers only because wrong orders are passed,” the bench said. “No doubt, there has to be zero tolerance for corruption and if there are allegations of corruption, misconduct or of acts unbecoming a judicial officer, these must be dealt with strictly,” it said.
The bench said if there is prima facie material to show reckless misconduct on the part of a judge while discharging his duties, the high court would be entitled to initiate disciplinary proceedings but such material should be evident from the orders and should also be placed on record.
“We would, however, like to make it clear that we are in no manner indicating that if a judicial officer passes a wrong order, then no action is to be taken,” the bench said.
“In case a judicial officer passes orders which are against settled legal norms but there is no allegation of any extraneous influences leading to the passing of such orders then the appropriate action which the High Court should take is to record such material on the administrative side and place it on the service record of the judicial officer concerned,” it said.
The bench allowed the petition filed before it and quashed the orders passed against the officer.