THE SUPREME Court has cautioned high court judges and said they cannot rip to shreds the reputation of subordinate judicial officers, based merely on “whims and fancies”. A bench of Justices Ranjan Gogoi and P C Pant observed that proceedings of a full court, involving the chief justice and all other judges of the high court concerned, cannot result in invoking administrative actions against subordinate judges without concrete reasons.
“Full courts are not meant for whims and fancies. You may not record everything that happens there but you must have some records of what you decide and how you decide. You don’t have to make it (records) public but it certainly cannot be a matter of whims and fancies,” the bench said last week.
The judges said they have also participated in full court proceedings and headed them as chief justices of high courts before their elevation to the apex court. “We know how they work,” the bench said. “The problem is, whatever we say here would come in public domain. But at times we must say something for the betterment of the institution. And we can say just one thing today — all is not well.”
Referring to the judicial officer concerned, the court observed, “It takes time to build reputation. It is fortified gradually, and hence it cannot suddenly be lost. Reputation is a very precious commodity. We are sure that judicial officers cannot lose reputation just like that — over whims and fancies of someone else.”
The top court was examining service records of a woman judge in a Delhi court, who, in 1999-2000, was given a ‘C’ (bad) rating, effectively meaning an officer with doubtful integrity. The bench had a day ago called upon a responsible official from the Delhi High Court registry to adduce requisite documents to justify the bad rating approved by the full court.
After going through the records, the bench noted that the officer’s rating had been brought down based on certain allegations which remained far from even being prima facie established.
“This officer enjoyed good reputation all along her career but suddenly she loses it. But later again, she has been rated well; you also promoted her to the higher judiciary. Can you explain how,” the bench asked senior counsel A Mariaputham, who appeared for the Delhi High Court. Mariaputham contended there were serious allegations of corruption against the judge and she was later promoted since nothing adverse came up in subsequent years.
But the bench replied, “If there is a question mark against a judge then that person does not deserve to continue. You must take action after proper verification. But here we cannot find any record of inquiry conducted to ascertain veracity of the accusations.”
The court set aside the bad rating given to the judge and directed the High Court to “re-do the exercise” and held that all consequential service benefits due to the officer in terms of the re-evaluated ACR will be granted to her.