Acquittal in criminal case does not imply closure of disciplinary proceedings: Supreme Court

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An employee’s acquittal in a criminal case would not automatically mean that the employee is entitled to be discharged from disciplinary proceedings initiated over the same incident, the Supreme Court held on Tuesday. [State Bank of India and ors vs P Zadenga]
The Court made the observation while restoring a 2003 order dismissing a former State Bank of India (SBI) employee from service.

A bench of Justices Hrishikesh Roy and Sanjay Karol noted that the nature of criminal cases is distinct from departmental proceedings.

As such, the pendency of criminal proceedings does not always mean that disciplinary or departmental proceedings over the same incident should be stayed, the Court said.

Pertinently, an acquittal in criminal proceedings does not entitle a delinquent employee to automatic discharge in departmental proceedings, the Court added.

“As a principle of law, we have already observed that a departmental proceeding pending criminal trial would not warrant an automatic stay unless, of course, a complicated question of law is involved. Also, acquittal in a criminal case ipso facto would not be tantamount to closure or culmination of proceedings in favour of a delinquent employee,” the Court held.

The Supreme Court made the observation while allowing an appeal by SBI against the Gauhati High Court’s decision to set aside disciplinary proceedings against the former employee, who was dismissed from service in 2003.

The High Court had reasoned that such departmental proceedings could not have been carried on when criminal proceedings were pending against the employee.

On an appeal by SBI, the Supreme Court noted that while disciplinary proceedings may be stayed when criminal proceedings are going on, such a stay cannot be ordered as a matter of course.

In this case, the employee was found to have moved the Court after the completion of disciplinary proceedings where he was adequately heard.

As such, no prejudice was caused to the employee because he had to face both criminal and disciplinary proceedings, the Court noted.

Therefore, the bank’s appeal was allowed and the High Court decision was set aside.

Senior Advocate Vikas Singh appeared for the State Bank of India. Advocate Jitendra Bharti for the delinquent employee, one P Zadenga.

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