Acquittal In A Criminal Trial Has No Bearing Or Relevance On The Disciplinary Proceedings: Supreme Court

The court noted that even while acquitting the accused – driver who was facing the trial under Sections 279 and 304(a) of IPC Criminal Court observed that the prosecution failed to prove that the incident occurred due to rash and negligent driving of the accused herein only and none else.

The Supreme Court observed that an acquittal in a criminal trial has no bearing or relevance on the disciplinary proceedings as reported in livelaw.

The standard of proof in both the cases are different and the proceedings operate in different fields and with different objectives, the bench comprising Justices M R Shah and BV Nagarathna observed while setting aside an order passed by Industrial Court which directed Maharashtra State Road Transport Corporation to reinstate a driver whose services were terminated by it after holding a disciplinary enquiry.

Disciplinary proceedings was initiated against the driver as the bus he drove met with an accident with a jeep which resulted in death of four passengers on the spot. It was found that there was negligence on the part of driver and he was dismissed from service. The Labour Court held that acquittal in the criminal case would not come to the rescue of the employee as the acquittal in the criminal case is on the failure of the prosecution to examine investigating officer, panch for spot panchnama,etc. In a revision application filed by the driver, the Industrial Tribunal considering his acquittal in criminal proceedings and observed that the drivers of both the vehicles were negligent (contributory negligence), and thus held that the order of dismissal is disproportionate to the misconduct proved. The Bombay High Court dismissed the writ petition filed by MSRTC challenging this order.

In appeal filed before the Apex Court, the issue considered was whether in the facts and circumstances of the case the punishment of dismissal can be said to be an unfair labour practice on the ground that the same was disproportionate to the misconduct proved?

The court noted that even while acquitting the accused – driver who was facing the trial under Sections 279 and 304(a) of IPC Criminal Court observed that the prosecution failed to prove that the incident occurred due to rash and negligent driving of the accused herein only and none else.

“Therefore, at the best even if it is assumed that even driver of the jeep was also negligent, it can be said to be a case of contributory negligence. That does not mean that the respondent – workman was not at all negligent. Hence, it does not absolve him of the misconduct.”, the court said.

While allowing the appeal, the bench observed that the Industrial Court erred in giving much stress on the acquittal by the criminal court. Restoring the dismissal order, the court observed:

“Even from the judgment and order passed by the criminal court it appears that the criminal court acquitted the respondent based on the hostility of the witnesses; the evidence led by the interested witnesses; lacuna in examination of the investigating officer; panch for the spot panchnama of the incident, etc. Therefore, criminal court held that the prosecution has failed to prove the case against the respondent beyond reasonable doubt. On the contrary in the departmental proceedings the misconduct of driving the vehicle rashly and negligently which caused accident and due to which four persons died has been established and proved. As per the cardinal principle of law an acquittal in a criminal trial has no bearing or relevance on the disciplinary proceedings as the standard of proof in both the cases are different and the proceedings operate in different fields and with different objectives. Therefore, the Industrial Court has erred in giving much stress on the acquittal of the respondent by the criminal court. Even otherwise it is required to be noted that the Industrial Court has not interfered with the findings recorded by the disciplinary authority holding charge and misconduct proved in the departmental enquiry, and has interfered with the punishment of dismissal solely on the ground that same is shockingly disproportionate and therefore can be said to be an unfair labour practice as per clause No.1(g) of Schedule IV of the MRTU & PULP Act, 1971.” (Para 10.4)

The court further noted that in the departmental enquiry, it has been specifically found that due to rash and negligent driving on the part of the driver, the accident took place in which four persons died. The punishment of dismissal imposed cannot be said to be shockingly disproportionate punishment, it said.

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Dec. 2022 Issue

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