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Acquittal Based on Benefit of Doubt Not an Hon'ble Acquittal for Appointment in Police Service: SC

What is important to note is the fact that the view of this Court has depended on the nature of offence charged and the result of the same. The mere fact of an acquittal would not suffice but rather it would depend on whether it is a clean acquittal based on total absence of evidence or in the criminal jurisprudence requiring the case to be proved beyond reasonable doubt, that parameter having not been met, benefit of doubt has been granted to the accused (Para.23).


STATE OF RAJASTHAN & ORS. VERSUS LOVE KUSH MEENA

[Civil Appeal No.3894 of 2020]

Decided on March 24, 2021


The moot point which arises for consideration is whether a benefit of doubt resulting in acquittal of the respondent in a case charged under Sections 302,323,341/34 of the Indian Penal Code, can create an opportunity for the respondent to join as a constable in the Rajasthan Police service [Para 1].


The accused, Love Kush Meena, was acquitted, because the prosecution witnesses had turned hostile. Consequently, the prosecution had failed to prove the case against the accused persons beyond reasonable doubt.

As per the notification for recruitment of constable, in 2013, which was issued through Part III of the Rajasthan Police Subordinate Service Regulations, 1989, the following ground for disqualification for appointment was given- only those candidates shall be qualified to appear in recruitment who have not been convicted for offence of moral turpitude, violent activities and not honourably acquitted by Court.

Based on the above rule, the respondent was not qualified to be appointed in the Rajasthan Police services.


A circular was issued in 2017, which stated, inter alia, that candidates not found guilty of criminal case, acquitted by the Court (including by giving benefit of doubt) and those acquitted or discharged on the basis of compromise, are eligible for appointment.

It is the say of the learned counsel for the respondent that the aforesaid circular is applicable and in terms of the said circular even cases where the acquittal7 is by giving benefit of doubt would not disqualify a candidate [Para 10].


The question arises whether the respondent is disentitled to appointment. Learned counsel for the appellant referred to Avtar Singh V. UOI, where the Supreme Court laid down parameters to be considered in such cases. It said that the employer shall take into consideration the government orders/instructions/rules applicable to the employee. In case acquittal was given by way of benefit of doubt, the employer may consider all relevant facts available as to antecedents, and take an appropriate decision.


The term ‘honourable acquittal’ was considered in UT, Chandigarh Administration & Ors. V. Pradeep Kumar &Anr. It was stated that acquittal in a criminal case was not conclusive for suitability of the candidate. It could not be inferred from an acquittal or discharge that the person was falsely involved or has no criminal antecedents.

In Inspector General of Police V. S Samuthiram, it was held that an accused who is acquitted after full consideration of the prosecution evidence, and prosecution has miserably failed to prove the charges against the accused, it can be said that he was honourably acquittal.


The Court opined that entry into the police service required a candidate to be of good character, integrity and clean antecedents. Acquittal in a criminal case does not automatically entitle a candidate for appointment to the post, as a person having criminal antecedents will not fit in this category.

In Commissioner of Police V. Mehar Singh, it was opined that the employer is entitled to take into account the job profile for which the selection is undertaken, the severity of the charge and whether the acquittal was an honourable acquittal, or merely on the ground of benefit of doubt.


The counsel for the respondent relied on Inspector General of Police V. S Samuthiram, which stated that it is difficult to define precisely what is meant by ‘honourable acquittal.’ In Joginder Singh V. State, it was held that it was an honourable acquittal where the prosecution had failed to prove charges levelled against the accused since the complainant as well as injured eyewitnesses failed to identify the assailants.

In Mohammed Imran V. Maharashtra, it was opined that since employment opportunity is a scarce commodity in India, with large number of aspirants, there cannot be any mechanical incantation of moral turpitude to deny appointment in judicial service, but would depend on the facts of a case.


In the instant case the aspect of there being a time lapse between the alleged offence and the recruitment process was emphasised to contend that the respondent herein was about 19 years of age when the incident occurred and had now carried his life further by being successful in a competitive examination some years down the line [Para 20].

A reference was also made in the counter affidavit to certain judgments of the Rajasthan High Court granting relief to the candidates based on acquittal obtained on benefit of doubt [Para 21].


Having heard the arguments presented by each side, the Supreme Court noted that what has to be seen is the nature of the offence charged and the result of the same. The mere fact of acquittal does not suffice, but whether it was a clean acquittal based on total absence of evidence, or proven beyond reasonable doubt, or on benefit of doubt.


What is important to note is the fact that the view of this Court has depended on the nature of offence charged and the result of the same. The mere fact of an acquittal would not suffice but rather it would depend on whether it is a clean acquittal based on total absence of evidence or in the criminal jurisprudence requiring the case to be proved beyond reasonable doubt, that parameter having not been met, benefit of doubt has been granted to the accused (Para.23).


In the present case, the accused was not a mere bystander, he was alleged to have attacked the prosecution witnesses with knives. The acquittal was also not a clean acquittal, since it was based on the prosecution witnesses turning hostile, and a subsequent benefit of doubt being given to the accused.


The judgment in Avtar Singh’s case (supra) on the relevant parameter extracted aforesaid clearly stipulates that where in respect of a heinous or serious nature of crime the acquittal is based on a benefit of reasonable doubt, that cannot make the candidate eligible [Para 25].


As per Avtar Singh’s (supra) parameters, the employer also has to take note of any government orders or rules at the time of taking the decision. In this regard, the Court held that the circular of 2017 has to be read in context of the judicial pronouncements. When this court has repeatedly opined that giving benefit of doubt does not entitle the candidate for appointment, despite the circular, the disqualification of the respondent cannot be said to be in violation of the circular, when it is in conformity with the law of this Court.


Therefore, the Supreme Court allowed the appeal.



Navyaa Shukla

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