The Supreme Court on Friday agreed to hear a judicial officer's plea challenging his suspension by the Patna high court, presumably for delivering a series of quick judgments, including in a Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act case where he concluded the trial in a single day.
A bench of Justices UU Lalit and SR Bhat issued notices, including to the state of Bihar, on the plea filed by Shashi Kant Rai, an additional district and sessions judge in Araria.
Rai has claimed in his plea that he "reasonably believes" there is an "institutional bias" against him as he concluded the trial in a POCSO case involving the rape of a six-year-old girl in a single day.
He has cited another judgment where he awarded capital punishment to an accused in four working days of trial, and claimed these verdicts were widely reported in the media and appreciated by the government and public alike.
"Issue notice returnable in two weeks," the bench ordered.
"The response to the petition shall indicate the steps taken pursuant to the order of suspension which is presently under challenge and place all the concerned documents on record," the court said.
During the hearing, the bench observed there are several judgments of the apex court where it has said sentence should not be pronounced on the same day (after concluding the trial).
Justice Lalit recalled a judgment was rendered in a case where a person was given death sentence in a span of nine days and the top court set aside that order and sent the matter back to the sessions court for fresh trial.
"Because, according to us, this will be a travesty of justice that you are not even giving adequate notice, adequate opportunity to the person who is finally going to get death sentence," the bench said, adding the judgment was delivered in 2019.
Senior advocate Vikas Singh, appearing for Rai, said the petitioner was also denied promotion.
He said the judgment in the POCSO case involving the rape of a six-year-old girl, in which the trial was concluded in a single day and the accused was awarded life term, was not stayed in appeal.
The judge said a three-judge bench of the apex court is already dealing with the broader question of what mitigating circumstances are being taken into account before awarding death sentences.
"So, we have been actually trying to devise modalities and say very well that at least you go check the prison record, check the probation officer. Now, this kind of assessment requires some reasoned approach to the matter," the bench said.
"There are umpteen number of judgments of the Supreme Court that sentencing issue should not be resorted to on the same day," it said.
The apex court observed that matters involving death sentence are serious as they relate to a person's life and death.
It said there were many instances where the conviction order and the sentencing order were passed the same day, and in at least half a dozen verdicts, death sentence was commuted purely on that ground (of haste).
Singh referred to a judgment delivered by the apex court and said the court had held that a subordinate judicial official should not be subjected to disciplinary proceedings for an error of judgement.
"Correct, understandable. Error in judgement is a different issue. Here, error in judgement is not the point," the bench said.
The plea alleged that the "non-speaking" order of February 8, 2022 passed by the high court keeping the petitioner under suspension with immediate effect is "manifestly arbitrary and violates the principles of natural justice".
A non-speaking order is an order where reasons for arriving at a conclusion or finding have not been mentioned.
"There is no reliance placed on any material while arriving at the said decision. The order merely states that disciplinary proceedings are pending against the petitioner and therefore, in exercise of the powers under Sub-rule (1) of Rule 6 of the Bihar Judicial Service (Classification, Control & Appeal) Rules, 2020 places the petitioner under suspension," it said.
The plea claimed the petitioner had only sought consideration for restoration of seniority on the basis of the new evaluation system introduced by the high court, which issued a show cause notice and later suspended him without giving any reasons merely for questioning the process of evaluation of judgments.
"The present writ petition under Article 32 of the Constitution of India is being filed by the petitioner seeking quashing of the non-speaking suspension order dated February 8, 2022 issued by the high court of Patna and the purported disciplinary proceedings as mentioned therein, being malicious, illegal, arbitrary, violative of fundamental rights of the petitioner as enshrined under Article 14 and 21 as also against the principles of natural justice," it said.
The petitioner had joined the Bihar Judicial Services in 2007.