Government cannot disqualify a person from service due to mere registration of criminal case: Kerala High Court

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The Kerala High Court recently observed that while verifying a service candidate’s character and antecedents, the government cannot disqualify a person from entering government service only because a criminal case was registered against him.[State of Kerala & Ors. v Durgadas & Ors.].

The government cannot merely restate allegations made by the prosecution in a criminal case to hold that a service candidate is “bad” or “unsuitable for the post”, the Court held.

A bench of Justices A Muhamed Mustaque and Shoba Annamma Eapen also clarified that an acquittal in a criminal case does not automatically entitle a candidate to join service.

The government should conduct its own inquiry into the allegations in the criminal case, particularly if it cannot form an opinion on the candidate’s character on the basis of the prosecution’s allegations or the ultimate outcome (such as acquittal) in the case, the Court said.

“We make it clear that in criminal cases where the prosecution cases end up in acquittal, if the Government cannot form an opinion based on the prosecution allegations and other materials including the finding entered by the criminal court as to the character of the person, the Government is bound to conduct separate enquiry as to the character antecedents of the person. Thus, mere registration of the criminal case will not enable the Government to disqualify such a person from becoming a member of service,” stated the September 29 judgment.

The Court made the observation while dismissing an petition filed by the State government challenging an Kerala Administrative Tribunal (KAT) order in favour a man who sought to join the India Reserve Battalion Commando Wing as a police constable.

The KAT had allowed his appointment to Commando Wing following his acquittal in a criminal case filed by his estranged wife. He had approached the KAT after he was not allowed to join the service by citing his criminal antecedents.

The KAT ruled in his favour on noting that even though there was a criminal case registered against him, he was acquitted in the matter. This led the State Government to approach the High Court on with a petition challenging the KAT order.

The High Court agreed with the KAT decision, observing that since the police constable was acquitted in the case, he could be denied the post merely based on the prosecution’s allegations.

There is no bar under the Kerala Police Act to temporarily appoint a person even if there are criminal cases pending against him, the Court further noted, although such appointments may be subject to the outcome of the case.

The High Court also noted that all the witnesses in the criminal case filed against the constable, including the complainant (his wife), had turned hostile.

“Except the allegation of the prosecution, absolutely no materials were available to hold against the candidate It is not safe to assess the character based on the prosecution allegations alone … The Government could not have concluded that the character is bad to disqualify him from becoming a member of the service without any materials, merely based on prosecution allegations,” the Court added.

The State’s petition was, thus, dismissed by the High Court.

The State authorities were represented by Additional Advocate General and Public Prosecutor Asok M Cherian and Government Pleader TS Shyam Prasanth.

The police constable was represented by advocates Kaleeswaram Raj, Thulasi K Raj and Varun C Vijay.

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