Domestic Inquiry During Pending Criminal Trial Not Contempt: SC Upholds Termination Of Teacher Accused Of Sexually Harassing Girl Students
While upholding termination of a teacher accused of harassing girl students in a Private school, the Supreme Court observed that pendency of criminal trial does not have any bearing on the domestic inquiry against the teacher.
The bench comprising Justice Uday Umesh Lalit and Justice Indira Banerjee observed that the initiation of the process in a departmental proceeding, in matters like these, cannot be said to be amounting to contempt of court even if the criminal proceedings were pending.
To probe the allegations against the teacher, an Inquiry Committee was constituted by the Management of the School consisting of the Convenor (Nominee of the Management), Nominee of the teacher and a State Awardee Teacher. The convenor prepared the report recommending termination of the teacher, while the other two members of the inquiry committee opined that decision by the Inquiry committee during the pendency of criminal trial will amount to Contempt of the Court.
The School Tribunal, though disagreed with the view adopted by the State Awardee teacher and the other member, however, ordered fresh enquiry from the stage of submission of joint and combined final report by all the members of the Inquiry Committee. The High Court dismissed the management's challenge against the Tribunal order.
In the appeal filed by management, the apex court bench observed that the conclusion by the Convener in the report that the charges were sensitive and that the case called for strict action, was absolutely correct. The others, the court said, not only showed complete lack of sensitivity but also got bogged down unnecessarily by a question whether any action on their part would amount to contempt of court or not.
"It is well settled that a departmental proceeding and proceedings in a criminal court are completely different. The purpose is different, the standard of proof is different and the approach is also different. The initiation of the process in a departmental proceeding, specially on charges with which we are concerned in the present matter can never be said to be amounting to contempt of court even if the criminal proceedings were pending. The allegations made against Respondent No.1 were of such level and dimension that an immediate action on the departmental front was required to be undertaken and such action by its very nature had to be completely independent. Whether any criminal trial was pending or not would not be having any bearing on the pending issue before the Inquiry Committee."
Upholding the termination order, the bench lauded the school management's approach. It said:
"If the Nominee of Respondent No.1 and the State Awardee Teacher had not given any final decision with clarity, since in their view it would have amounted to contempt of court, the Appellant was justified in relying upon the conclusions drawn by the Convener of the Inquiry Committee and then pass an order of termination. In our view, the approach adopted by the Management was not only fair and transparent but was in keeping with what is expected of the Management where allegations of sexual harassment of adolescent girls are in issue."