In a recent judgment, the Allahabad High Court has laid down the procedure adopted by the competent authority for inquiring into the criminal history of a candidate ahead of selection.
A Single-Judge Bench of Justice Ajay Bhanot passed this order while hearing a petition filed by Sanny Kumar, aggrieved by an order passed by the Superintendent of Police, Jalaun, canceling his selection as Constable in Uttar Pradesh Police, in the backdrop of several criminal cases pending against him.
The petitioner was an accused in the FIR registered under Sections 354-Kha, 120-B, 504, 506 IPC and Sections 11 and 22 of POCSO Act, and Section 67A of the IT (Amendment) Act, 2008, Police Station Hathras Gate, District Hathras.
The counsel for the petitioner contended that the petitioner had truthfully declared details of all the criminal cases pending against him in the affidavit of verification.
The counsel submitted that the petitioner has not been charge-sheeted in two cases. One of the cases is an offshoot of a matrimonial dispute of his brother. The order has overlooked the acquittal of the petitioner by the Court in one criminal case. The authority has not adopted any standard of evidence while considering the material against the petitioner. In absence of conviction by a court, an appointment cannot be refused.
The standing counsel for the state of Uttar Pradesh stated that the petitioner was named in multiple criminal cases. The petitioner was not acquitted honorably by the trial court in the first case. The petitioner was named in the FIRs lodged in the other cases including one for an act of moral turpitude. The fact that the Investigation Officer did not charge sheet the petitioner does not exonerate the petitioner, particularly, when trials are on foot.
The Court held that the Police is a “disciplined force” which is charged with the duty to uphold the law and order in the State. Thus, personnel in uniform belonging to disciplined forces, are expected to bear impeccable character and possess unimpeachable integrity.
“It is essential to examine the suitability of candidates for appointment. An important factor for the determination of such suitability is the role of “Criminal Antecedents”,” the Court said.
The Court stated that the conclusion of the competent authority is an estimation at best. Thus, it is the duty of an employer to evaluate the suitability of a candidate for appointment, paired with the right of the candidate for a fair consideration of his credentials.
“The candidate can tender his defense to refute the aforesaid material and point out mitigating circumstances in his favor in the proceeding. When the need arises fair and an impartial opportunity of hearing may be given to such candidate,”
-the Court observed.
While the standards of proof that are applicable in judicial proceedings are not applicable in the suitability test, the Bench observed that the competent authority should see that the material in the record strongly supports the inference of criminal traits, or a tendency of involvement in criminal offenses, or to directly engage in criminal acts or vice and violence in the conduct, while rejecting a candidature.
The Court remarked,
“Regard has to be paid by the competent authority to the gravity and heinous nature of offenses or offenses involving moral turpitude. Such cases may dissuade the competent from approving the candidate for appointment. The multiplicity of criminal prosecutions is also a factor while considering the suitability of a candidate. Repetitive criminal acts may reinforce the inference of criminal traits or vice and violence in a candidate.”
The Court has elucidated the type of materials that may be considered by such authority, the standard of proof, and other aggravating/ mitigating factors for the purpose.
The Court has also made it clear that such inquiry is different from a trial/civil proceeding before a court of law and hence, the competent authority is not always bound by the findings of the court, nor is it invariably constrained by the opinion of the investigation officer.
In light of the above facts, the Court dismissed the petition.