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District Judge Does Not Have Power Of Superintendence Over Judicial Officers Subordinate To Him In The District Court

The District Judge of any District is the highest judicial officer of the district and scores of ADJs, Civil Judges and Judicial Magistrates work under him and are subordinate to him. He has varied administrative powers assigned to him including power to transfer any case from one court to another, on an application of any litigant or otherwise. However, his powers cannot in any way be equated or characterized as the power of superintendence vested in the jurisdictional High Court.

Very recently, the Allahabad High Court in the case No. 2389 of 2020 Alka Pandey Vs. State Of U.P. & Others decided on 15-12-2020 has categorically held that the District and Sessions Judge has only administrative control over the judicial officers subordinate to him, but this administrative control cannot be in any way be equated to power of superintendence which is vested only with the jurisdictional High Court.

The brief facts of the case are that ACJM passed judgment in Criminal Case No. 909/2019 convicting the accused under Section 406 and 411 IPC. On appeal the said order was set aside by the Sessions Judge. While passing the appellate order the District Judge also commented adversely on the ACJM, who moved to the Allahabad High Court praying for expunging the said remarks. The High Court examined whether it was appropriate & justified for the Sessions Judge in his capacity as an appellate Court to pass any comments regarding the 'dexterity, knowledge or intelligence or manner of dealing' of the trial Judge.

The Apex Court & the Allahabad High Court have earlier dealt with identical issues and have univocally held that the superior Courts should refrain from commenting upon the capabilities of the Judge of the subordinate Court while hearing an appeal or revision against such Judgments. The High Court referred to & followed the Apex Court's case in State of U.P. Vs. Mohd. Naim, (1964) 1 CrLJ 549 wherein the Apex Court observed in the said judgment as under:
the proper freedom and independence of judges and magistrates will be maintained and they must be allowed to perform the functions freely and fearlessly and without undue interference by anybody, even by this Court, at the same time it is equally necessary that in expressing their opinions judges and magistrates must be guided by considerations of justice, fair play and restrain.

The High Court in the said case has distinctly drawn the line between administrative hierarchy and Judicial Superintendence and held thus:
The Sessions Judge while hearing the appeal had full powers and jurisdiction at his command to re-appreciate the evidence to disagree and come to a different conclusion that of the trial Court, but his jurisdiction fell short of commenting upon the shortcomings of the applicant while discharging the duties of trial Court dealing with the said case. It was not expected from him to remonstrate that applicant while discharging the duties of a trial judge had not written the judgment as expected from a judicial officer.

The said comment starkly reflects upon the persona of the judicial officer, and while deciding the said appeal the Sessions Judge was expected to judge the case which were before him, and had no jurisdiction to judge the judicial officer who was the author of the judgment. Undeniably the District and Sessions Judge has administrative control over the judicial officers subordinate to him, but the administrative control cannot be equated to power of superintendence which is vested only with the High Courts.

The Hon'ble Supreme Court in this regard has also even cautioned the High Courts to refrain from making observations extending to criticism of the subordinate judicial officer in as much as the said judicial officer is condemned unheard which is violative of principles of natural justice, and it should not be forgotten that the subordinate judiciary itself is dispensing justice and it gives chance to the litigating party to have a sense of victory not only over his opponent but also over the judge who decided the case against him.

This is subversive of the judicial authority of the deciding judge and such an unsavory situation leads to the judicial officer filing a petition which reduces his status to a litigant and this is clearly not conducive of judicial functioning.

The High Court followed & relied upon the Apex Court's ruling in the case of In the Matter of ”'K' A Judicial Officer [2001] 3 SCC 54, wherein the Apex Court observed thus:
“Judicial restraint and discipline are as necessary to the orderly administration of justice as they are to the effectiveness of the army. The duty of restraint, this humility of function should be constant theme of our Judges.

This quality in decision-making is as much necessary for Judges to command respect as to protect the independence of the judiciary. Judicial restraint in this regard might better be called judicial respect, that is, respect by the judiciary. Respect to those who come before the court as well to other coordinate branches of the State, the executive and the legislature. There must be mutual respect. When these qualities fail or when litigants and public believe that the Judge has failed in these qualities, it will be neither good for the Judges nor for the judicial process.

The Allahabad High Court followed the case of Amar Pal Singh vs State of Uttar Pradesh and Another, (2012) 6 SCC 491 wherein the Apex Court observed as follows:
19. From the aforesaid enunciation of law it is quite clear that for more than four decades this Court has been laying emphasis on the sacrosanct duty of a Judge of a superior Court how to employ the language in judgment so that a message to the officer concerned is conveyed.

It has been clearly spelt out that there has to be a process of reasoning while unsettling the judgment and such reasoning are to be reasonably stated with clarity and result orientation. A distinction has been lucidly stated between a message and a rebuke. A Judge is required to maintain decorum and sanctity which are inherent in judicial discipline and restraint.

A judge functioning at any level has dignity in the eyes of public and credibility of the entire system is dependent on use of dignified language and sustained restraint, moderation and sobriety. It is not to be forgotten that independence of judiciary has an insegregable and inseparable link with its credibility.

Unwarranted comments on the judicial officer creates a dent in the said credibility and consequently leads to some kind of erosion and affects the conception of rule of law. The sanctity of decision making process should not be confused with sitting on a pulpit and delivering sermons which defy decorum because it is obligatory on the part of the superior Courts to take recourse to correctional measures.

A reformative method can be taken recourse to on the administrative side. It is condign to state it should be paramount in the mind of a Judge of superior Court that a Judicial officer projects the face of the judicial system and the independence of judiciary at the ground reality level and derogatory remarks against a judicial officer would cause immense harm to him individually (as the expunction of the remarks later on may not completely resuscitate his reputation) but also affects the credibility of the institution and corrodes the sacrosanctity of its zealously cherished philosophy.

A judge of a superior Court however strongly he may feel about the unmerited and fallacious order passed by an officer, but is required to maintain sobriety, calmness, dispassionate reasoning and poised restraint. The concept of loco parentis has to take a foremost place in the mind to keep at bay any uncalled for any unwarranted remarks.

20. Every judge has to remind himself about the aforesaid principles and religiously adhere to them. In this regard it would not be out of place to sit in the time machine and dwell upon the sagacious saying of an eminent author who has said that there is a distinction between a man who has command over ‘Shastras’ and the other who knows it and puts into practice. He who practises them can alone be called a ‘vidvan’.

Though it was told in a different context yet the said principle can be taken recourse to, for one may know or be aware of that use of intemperate language should be avoided in judgments but while penning the same the control over the language is forgotten and acquired knowledge is not applied to the arena of practice. Or to put it differently the knowledge stands still and not verbalised into action. Therefore, a committed comprehensive endeavour has to be made to put the concept to practice so that it is concretised and fructified and the litigations of the present nature are avoided.

The District Judge is the head of family of the Judiciary in the district. He is supposedly the most experienced & law knowing person of the fraternity. He is supposed to be supportive, morale boosting & motivating to his subordinates. The new entrants/ fresher are likely to commit errors in understanding both facts & law and are likely to misinterpret law and commit grave errors in their orders. In fact, the hierarchy of first appeal, second appeal, High Court & the Apex Court have been provided by the lawmakers for due redressal. It is also to be borne in mind that Law is not static. It is dynamic & ever evolving.

The District Judge in appeal finds the order of the subordinate judge unsustainable, while the High Court may set aside the order of the District Judge. In turn, the Apex Court may differ with the order of the High Court. This journey of difference of views and Interpretation of Law does not end here and in a number of cases the bench of the Apex Court differs with the earlier precedents and refers the settled matter to Larger/Constitution bench for reconsideration.

Thus, no view is right or wrong but the same changes with, as they say, the Judges become ‘Wiser’ with the passage of time. It is therefore imperative that the District Judges should instead of criticising the wisdom of their subordinates act according to the Law consistently laid down by the Apex Court in this regard and act/behave as guardians of their subordinates.

Written By: Inder Chand Jain
Ph no: 8279945021, Email: [email protected]

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