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Ipso Facto, a delay in conducting a disciplinary investigation does not invalidate it: Supreme Court

The Supreme Court stated that any delay in conducting a disciplinary investigation does not ipso facto render the investigation void. The bench of Justices D.Y. Chandrachud, Vikram Nath, and Hima Kohli stated that the prejudice induced by the delay must be proven and cannot be based on speculation. After it was revealed that some members of a gunda squad arrested a person who later died in police custody, a departmental investigation was launched into a police officer who allegedly formed, supervised, and operated one. A magisterial inquiry into the death in custody was performed, and a report was submitted on October 10, 2014.

The Court observed in its appeal that the charge sheet offers a complete exposition of the charges against the officer.

“……the first respondent and does not leave the recipient in a measure of doubt or ambiguity over the nature of the case he is required to answer in the disciplinary enquiry. The finding that the charge is vague is palpably in error. The Tribunal declined to quash the charge-sheet by its initial order dated July 28 2016.”

The Court stated that the Tribunal would have been right in ordering the investigation to be completed as quickly as possible but instead chose to quash the investigation in its entirety.

“Every delay in conducting a disciplinary enquiry does not, ipso facto, lead to the enquiry being vitiated. Whether prejudice is caused to the officer who is being enquired into is a matter which has to be decided on the basis of the circumstances of each case. Prejudice must be demonstrated to have been caused and cannot be a matter of surmise. Apart from submitting that the first respondent was unable to proceed on deputation or to seek promotion, there is no basis on which it could be concluded that his right to defend himself stands prejudicially affected by a delay of two years in concluding the enquiry.”

The Court upheld the officer’s appeal, stating that because the charge sheet was issued while he was on duty, the disciplinary investigation can go to its logical end. The judges stated that it should be completed as soon as possible, preferably by July 31, 2022.

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