Divisional Commissioner orders quasi-judicial, have to be reasoned: Bombay HC

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The Bombay High Court recently held that the orders passed by Divisional Commissioners and Sub-divisional Commissioners sitting in appeal against externment orders under the Maharashtra Police Act, 1951 are quasi-judicial in nature and should, therefore, be reasoned orders [Mayur Vasant Sonawane v. State of Maharashtra & Anr.]
A Full Bench comprising Justices SS Shinde, Prakash D Naik and Sarang Kotwal held as follows:

The power under Section 60 of the Maharashtra Police Act of 1951 (MPA) is quasi judicial in nature and the orders passed under that Section are quasi judicial orders.

There is a duty to give reasons, at least in brief, while disposing the appeals under Section 60 of the Act of 1951.

The Court also stated that the appellate authority must objectively assess whether externment orders are passed correctly.

“The Appellate Authority is not required to reach its subjective satisfaction. It has to objectively test the externment order placed before it. There is a definite material in the form of externment order, which the Appellate Authority has to consider for its correctness. This function is different from arriving at a subjective satisfaction based purely on the material against the Appellant,” the court said in its judgment.

The full bench was called on to decide these issues after two division benches of the High Court expressed conflicting views on the nature of orders passed by the Appellate Authorities under Section 60 of the Maharashtra Police Act (MPA).

Under Section 56 of the MPA, the State government can appoint a police commissioner to remove a suspected person/s likely commit any offence or convicts under specific act from specific region.

Such decisions can be appealed before the Sub-Divisional Magistrate or Divisional or Deputy Commissioner under Section 60 of the MPA.

‘Whether such an order would be a quasi-judicial nature or not and were they required to be reasoned’ was the question before the division benches of the High Court.

Moreover, depending on whether the order under Section 60 of the MPA is passed by a quasi judicial authority or an administrative authority, it was to be decided whether appeals against such externment orders could be heard by a single-judge or a division bench of the High Court.

According to Chapter XVII Rule 18 of the Bombay High Court Appellate Side Rules, a single-judge can hear petitions against orders under the Maharashtra Police Act (MPA).

However, a proviso clarifies that ‘orders’ in general include any order passed by any judicial or quasi judicial authority empowered to adjudicate under respective statutes.

An earlier bench of the High Court had held that ‘the duty to act judicially would be clearly excluded and that the decision would be an administrative decision, as opposed to quasi judicial decision’.

A subsequent division bench did not agree with the order and referred the issue for consideration before the full bench.

The full bench, after examining the judgments of the two division benches and a host of judicial precedents, concluded that the power under Section 60 of the MPA is quasi-judicial in nature and hence, the orders passed under it are quasi-judicial orders.

While holding that the appellate authority was expected to give reasons for its orders, the Court clarified that the authority could maintain confidentiality at the same time.

“The State Government in appeal was not expected to write reasoned order in the nature of a judgment, but, that did not mean that no reasons whatsoever were required to be given. …reasons could be given by testing the impugned externment order objectively. It is possible to give reasons without divulging specific particulars of allegations against the externee. The reasons can be given maintaining confidentiality of the relevant material,” the judgment stated.

Having decided that the orders passed by the Appellate Authorities are quasi-judicial in nature, the Bench directed the High Court registry to place the concerned writ petition before a Division Bench for consideration on facts.

Advocates Prashant Aher and Prashant Gavai, appeared for the writ petitioner. Advocate Girish S Godbole served as the Amicus Curiae. Chief Public Prosecutor AS Pai with Additional Public Prosecutor KV Saste appeared for State.

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