A Supreme Court bench comprising of Justice DY Chandrachud and Justice Indira Banerjee held that acquittal in the course of the criminal trial by itself is not a ground for vitiating the finding of misconduct found during disciplinary proceedings, as a disciplinary enquiry is governed by a different standard of proof than that which applies to a criminal case.
A CRPC constable was acquitted after being tried for an offence under Section 304 IPC. However, the disciplinary enquiry had found that the charge of misconduct was sustainable on the basis of the evidence on the record. He was accused of causing the death of a co-employee which occurred in the course of handling of the weapon by him.
The High Court allowed his challenge against the finding of the disciplinary committee and relying on the judgment in Capt M Paul Anthony v Bharat Gold Mines Ltd. concluded that departmental proceedings were not sustainable as they were the ‘same and identical’ as the criminal proceedings. Also, in a criminal case, the charge has to be proved by the prosecution beyond reasonable doubts, whereas in a departmental proceeding the standard of proof is one of preponderance of the probabilities. The exception may be in the case where the departmental proceedings and the criminal case are based on the same set of facts and the evidence in both the proceedings is common and without a variance.
The Supreme Court setting aside the judgment of the High Court held that “the purpose of a disciplinary enquiry is to enable the employer to determine as to whether an employee has committed a breach of the service rules." Acquittal in a criminal trial does not operate as an ipso facto ground for vitiating the finding of misconduct arrived at as a result of the disciplinary proceeding.
The Apex court bench further observed that the charge in the criminal trial arose as result of the death caused due to firing of the bullet from the weapon of the first respondent, but the charge of misconduct in the disciplinary proceeding arose on the ground of negligence by him in handling his weapon and failure to comply with the departmental instructions in that regard. Consequently it was held by the Court that “the acquittal in the criminal case was not a ground for setting aside the penalty which was imposed in the course of the disciplinary enquiry."