A criminal case and disciplinary proceedings are different and acquittal in one of them does not hold any significance in the other case: Supreme Court

An acquittal in a criminal trial has no bearing or relevance on the disciplinary proceedings. The same was observed by the Supreme Court, by Justices M R Shah and B V Nagarathna in the case of Maharashtra State Road Transport Corporation V. Dilip Uttam Jayabhay, [CIVIL APPEAL NO.7403 OF 2021].

The facts of the case are that the respondent in the present case was a driver who was playing a passenger bus and on 23.10.1992 and during his journey he got into an accident with a jeep coming from front direction. The bus driver took an extreme right contrary to the traffic rules that resulted in the crash causing multiple fatalities and injuries to persons. The respondent was hence subjected to disciplinary enquiry and upon the conclusion if it he was dismissed from the service, further he was also prosecuted under section 279 of IPC however he was acquitted as it was a case of contributory negligence.

The labor court held that the acquittal on the criminal case will not aid the employee in the matter as they are different proceedings over the same subjects but with different factors and proofs that need to be taken into consideration. This matter was taken to Supreme court where Justice Shah observed that “therefore, at the best even if it is assumed that even driver of the jeep was also negligent, it can be said to be a case of contributory negligence.”

To be fair even though the Supreme Court is a court of law and not a court of facts and evidences there is certainly a possibility of error, the fact that the case from the year 1992 there is a possibility of errors. “Errors” not in recording of judgements but application of law because “disciplinary proceeding” has a very wide scope and the time gap that existed in the case for dismissal of disciplinary proceedings also further open the scope of alteration of facts due to human memory’s limitation.

Further an interesting distinction bas been made by the supreme court between evidences in a criminal trial and the evidences in a disciplinary proceeding however that observation is only specific to this case or any other cases dealing with the offence of “negligence”. Negligence is something that is punishable as per the law and it is something based on which disciplinary proceedings can be initiated against a person but when there is a negligence from both the sides as it was later on observed in this case it changes the liability. A person can be negligent but he can be given a defence of contributory negligence but after examining this term it has to be seen that contributory negligence does not mean absence of negligence, it is merely a defence from a criminal punishment as per the law but since contributory negligence can only exist when there is some negligence on the part of both the parties it still remains as a valid ground for disciplinary proceedings.

Another insight that can be drawn from this case is the charges and hearings conducted by the prosecution are based on witnesses, evidences and factors such as hostility of witnesses also play a crucial role in this and in criminal proceedings the acquittal of the accused is done because of prosecution to prove the case beyond reasonable doubt and failure of proving the case beyond reasonable doubt cannot be a ground for setting aside a disciplinary proceeding.

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Judgment reviewed by Meenakshi Jena

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