Mandatory 4-month cap before prosecuting public official: Supreme Court

The bench heard the call of a government official Vijay Rajamohan. (Representative)

New Delhi:

The Supreme Court on Tuesday said the four-month statutory provision to grant a sanction to prosecute government officials in criminal cases, including corruption cases, was “binding”, saying the delay in prosecuting the corrupt “creates a culture of impunity” and leads to “a systemic resignation” to the existence of corruption in public life.

The High Court, in a landmark verdict, ruled: “The competent authority will be responsible for the delay and will be subject to judicial review and administrative action by the Central Vigilance Commission under the CVC Act.” A bench of judges BR Gavai and PS Narasimha, in their 30-page verdict, however, said that while the delay in granting the sanction to prosecute could be challenged in the high courts and the supreme court, it would not be a ground for annulment of criminal proceedings against officials.

He said the sanctioning authority must bear in mind that public confidence in the maintenance of the rule of law, which is fundamental in the administration of justice, is at stake here.

“By causing a delay in considering the sanction application, the sanctioning authority stifles judicial review, thereby vitiating the process of determining the allegations against the corrupt official,” he said.

“Delays in prosecuting the corrupt breed a culture of impunity and lead to a systemic resignation to the existence of corruption in public life. Such inaction risks making future generations accustomed to corruption as a way of life. Seen in this context, the duty to make a prompt decision is inherent in the power conferred on the appointing authority to grant or not to grant a sanction,” he said.

A period of three months, extended by an additional month for legal consultation, is available to appointing authorities to grant sanction to the CBI and other investigative agencies to prosecute officials in criminal cases in under Article 197 of the Code of Criminal Procedure and Article 97 of the Prevention Law. corruption law.

The bench was hearing an appeal by government official Vijay Rajamohan against a Madras High Court verdict.

The HC had allowed CBI’s appeal against a trial court order that acquitted Vijay Rajamohan on the grounds that the prosecution sanction was flawed due to failure to apply the spirit in a disproportionate assets case of Rs 79.17 lakh.

The CBI had made the request for sanction for the purpose of prosecution on September 8, 2015 and it was granted on July 24, 2017 after a delay of one year and ten months.

He dismissed the appeal and left it to the accused official to seek appropriate relief.

The court dealt with legal issues, including whether the statutory time limit for the appointing authority to decide on a sanction request is mandatory or not.

“The … answer to the question is to say that the three-month period, extended by an additional month for legal consultation, is mandatory. The consequence of failure to comply with this mandatory requirement will not be the cancellation of criminal proceedings for this very reason. The competent authority will be responsible for the delay and will be subject to judicial review and administrative action by the CVC…”, he said.

The court also considered that at the expiration of the legal period, the injured party, whether the plaintiff, the accused or the victim, would have the right to seize the relevant high court.

Aggrieved parties have the right to seek appropriate remedies, including action guidelines on the sanction request and for corrective action on the liability of the sanctioning authority.

“This is particularly crucial if the non-granting of the sanction is unreasonably withheld, resulting in the cover-up of a genuine case of corruption. Simultaneously, the CVC must investigate the matter in exercise of its powers under …and take such corrective action as empowered under the CVC Act,” he said.

He also said that the statutory scheme under which the appointing authority could seek and consider the advice of the CVC could not be characterized as a dictated act or a factor that could be characterized as an irrelevant consideration.

“The opinion of the CVC is only advisory. It nevertheless constitutes a valuable contribution to the decision-making process of the appointing authority. The final decision of the appointing authority must be its own by application of a spirit of independence. It is act therefore , replied judging that there is no illegality in the action of the appointing authority, the DoPT, if it requests, returns and considers the opinion of the Central Vigilance Commission …”, did he declare.

(Except for the title, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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