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The Supreme Court on Thursday held that adverse entries in the career of a judicial officer with regard to his integrity do not lose their sting at any stage.

The Bench of Justices L. Nageswara Rao and Deepak Gupta, while dismissing two petitions, said: “A judicial officer’s integrity must be of a higher order and even a single aberration is not permitted.”

Before determining the outcome of the petitions, the bench discussed precedents with respect to compulsory retirement and hence laid down the following guidelines to be adhered to in determining the validity of an order of compulsory retirement:

(i) An order directing compulsory retirement of a judicial officer is not punitive in nature;

(ii) An order directing compulsory retirement of a judicial officer has no civil consequences;

(iii) While considering the case of a judicial officer for compulsory retirement the entire record of the judicial officer should be taken into consideration, though the latter and more contemporaneous record must be given more weightage;

(iv) Subsequent promotions do not mean that earlier adverse record cannot be looked into while deciding whether a judicial officer should be compulsorily retired;

(v) The ‘washed off’ theory does not apply in case of judicial officers specially in respect of adverse entries relating to integrity;

(vi) The courts should exercise their power of judicial review with great circumspection and restraint keeping in view the fact that compulsory retirement of a judicial officer is normally directed on the recommendation of a high-powered committee(s) of the High Court.

The court held that only an allegation of mala fides in passing a compulsory retirement order could have broadened the scope of judicial review in the instant petitions before it.

The two judicial officers, in their petitions, had however claimed that no material exists on record to justify compulsory retirement. The court thus had to refer to the reports of the screening committee and standing committee, pointing out the aberrations, which though in the past, could not be “washed off” on account of promotions received thereafter.

— India Legal Bureau

Read judgment here

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