Observing that judicial orders have the effect of being permanent, the Delhi High Court recently held that “undesirable judicial strictures that penalise without inquiry and stigmatise without conviction should be avoided” and judicial officers must exercise restraint while making the remarks.
A single judge bench of Justice Swarana Kanta Sharma made the observations in a judgment on November 22, while hearing a plea moved by a Station House Officer with Greater Kailash-I police station, seeking deletion of remarks made against him by a trial court and setting aside the directions issued to the Delhi Police Commissioner to get an inquiry conducted against him in a criminal case under the Negotiable Instruments Act.
Ordering deletion of the remarks against the police officer, the HC observed that every word forming part of a judicial order forms a permanent record. “Use of denigrating remarks against anyone, especially against police officials impeaching their credibility and questioning their sense of dedication towards duty, is not the best course adopted by a judicial officer, that too when the same is not required for the adjudication of the case before the court,” said the court, while pointing out that such criticism may have a devastating effect on the professional career of an officer and an everlasting effect on the reputation of the person.
This court, while acknowledging the fact that police officers are expected to be at the desired place and desired time with utmost efficiency, observed that the practical difficulties which are faced by them cannot be overlooked and disregarded by courts.
“The strictures as passed in the present case go beyond the mandate of law, judicial precedents and discipline of judicial restraint”. It, however, said that this also does not mean that courts lack the power to point out any irregularity, omission or commission of any act as directed by the court, or undermine its power to pass orders pointing out disobedience by police officers or fault in any investigation.
The trial court had directed the SHO to serve a non-bailable warrant and a notice to surety on one of the parties in the criminal case. The police officer, however, submitted that the non-bailable warrants and notice to surety were served through the staff of “Summon Pool, South District”.
Taking objection to this the trial court had said that instead of serving the party himself, the SHO “assigned the process issued by Court to Summon Pool, South District”.
The trial court, thereafter, remarked that from the conduct of the police officer it appears that “he has no sense of responsibility and devotion towards duty and he remains indifferent” to directions of the court. “Let a copy of this order and orders as mentioned in the last para be sent to CP, Delhi with direction to take corrective measures and take action against SHO PS GK-I for consistent default in performing his duties for 30.09.2022. Whether or not an officer like SHO PS GK-I is fit for performing duties as SHO is left on the wisdom of CP, Delhi to take a call,” it had said.
However, when the case came up before the HC, it held that there was no irregularity on the part of petitioner “in getting the processes issued through the In-charge, Summons Pool, South District”.
The HC said that various judgments of the Supreme Court as well as the High Court have held that it was impermissible in law to pass such sweeping remarks against police officers, and direct higher authorities to take action against them. “In case of any lapse or irregularity, the court concerned can record such lapse and indicate the future course of action, but passing disparaging remarks affecting the career of a public servant must not be the course to be adopted,” the High Court said.
Considering the facts of the case the HC noted that the SHO had acted in accordance with the “process laid down” for service of summons and warrants. However, the trial court observed that the officer “lacked sense of responsibility and devotion towards his duty”, thus, “unworthy of being an SHO, and a direction was issued to the Commissioner of Police Delhi to take action against the petitioner”. The HC opined that these remarks against the SHO were “unwarranted as well as impermissible in law”.
While underscoring that “exercising judicial restraint” is one of the qualities of a judicial officer, the HC said that judicial strictures against anyone need to be passed with utmost circumspection. “Judicial strictures against a police officer to the extent as expressed in the present case are problematic though every disapproval expressed by the exercise of adjudicatory liberty of expression may not fall in the realm of lack of judicial restraint,” the HC noted.
The HC further said the trial court’s observations have the effect of “stigmatising without conviction, sentencing without inquiry and affecting career in future of an officer” which should have been left to the internal administrative disciplinary proceedings to be conducted by the parent department of the officer in question.