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Thursday, December 07 2023

Losing good judicial officers without counselling not in judiciary’s interest: SC

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New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Thursday February 10 said losing a good judicial officer without counselling and without providing an opportunity to introspect and re-think is not in the interest of the judiciary, and senior judges of high courts could advise the officer to withdraw it.

A bench of Justices L. Nageswara Rao and B.R. Gavai said: “Losing a good judicial officer without counselling him/her and without giving him/her an opportunity to introspect and re-think, will not be in the interest of either the judicial officer or the judiciary. We find that it will be in the interest of the judiciary that such a practice is followed by all the High Courts.”

The bench emphasised that in some high courts, a practice is followed, that whenever a judicial officer having good track record tenders his/her resignation, an attempt is made by the senior judges of the high court to counsel and persuade him/her to withdraw the resignation.

“Valuable time and money are spent on training a judicial officer,” said Justice Gavai, who authored the judgment on behalf of the bench. Senior counsel Indira Jaisingh and advocate Astha Sharma represented the woman officer in the top court.

The apex court made the observation while directing reinstatement of a former Madhya Pradesh woman judicial officer, who resigned in 2014 following an inquiry into her sexual harassment allegations against a high court judge.

“We hold and declare that the petitioner’s resignation from the post of Additional District & Sessions Judge, Gwalior dated 15th July 2014, cannot be construed to be voluntary and as such, the order dated July 17, 2014, passed by the respondent No. 2, thereby accepting the resignation of the petitioner, is quashed and set aside,” it said.

The woman officer had resigned following her abrupt transfer from Gwalior to Sidhi. She said that her daughter was studying at Gwalior and she was in the final year of the board examination. The officer made two representations requesting retention at Gwalior for a period of 8 months so that her daughter could continue with her education at Gwalior, but this was not approved and then she resigned.

The top court said: “No doubt, that a judicial officer while discharging his/her duties, is expected to be independent, fearless, impassionate and non-impulsive. But a judicial officer is also a human being. A judicial officer is also a parent. He/she could be a father or a mother.”

The bench said her transfer order was in contravention of the transfer policy and that the rejection of her two representations, in addition to being contrary to the transfer policy, were also arbitrary.

“The resignation letter in the present case, as has already been discussed hereinabove, appears to be on account of exasperation and frustration actuated by a thought, that injustice was being meted out to her by the very institution of judiciary,” it added.

Following her allegations of sexual harassment, 58 members of the Rajya Sabha sought to move a motion to impeach the high court judge. In 2015, an inquiry panel was set up which tabled its report in Rajya Sabha in December 2017 and concluded that the allegations of sexual harassment could not be “proved beyond reasonable doubt”.

The panel, which comprised a then Supreme Court judge, then Bombay High Court Chief Justice Manjula Chellur, and a senior advocate said the decision to transfer the officer “mid-session” was “not justified”.

After the high court declined to reinstate her, in 2018, the officer moved the Supreme Court citing the findings of the panel.

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