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Judicial freedom part of the basic constitutional structure: Karnataka HC quashed Private complaint

The Karnataka High Court, while rejecting a private appeal against a judicial officer, observed that the independence of the judiciary is part of the basic structure of India's Constitution.

The order was passed by a Bench of Chief Justice Abhay Shreeniwas Oka and Justice Ashok S Kinagi.

The son of the claimant was taken to a doctor, who referred the matter to the Davanagere hospital, where the son eventually died. The doctors and others accusing the committing of a crime punishable under Section 304A (causing death by negligence) IPC were lodged with a First Information Report.

In the meantime, a complaint against the applicant was lodged by the trustee of the cooperative society for failure to repay a loan of Rs 2 lakh. He was eventually taken before a judicial officer on behalf of the case in question.

According to the claimant, the said judicial officer (the second respondent before the High Court) stated him that he would be released on bail if he removed the lawsuit against the doctors and that he would be taken into custody if he did not withdraw the lawsuit.

The claim is that, the judicial officer misused his judicial powers and perpetrated crimes punished under Sections 166, 205, 120A, 211, 219 read with Sections 34 and 499 of IPC.

The plaintiff consequently filed a private case against the judicial officer under Section 200 of the Code of Criminal Practice (CrPC) and nine other defendants before the Judge of the Principal District and Sessions at Bellary.

On a July 21, a directive was given to file a suomotu criminal petition under Section 482 CrPC for quashing the aforementioned lawsuit lodged by the first respondent only insofar as the judicial officer was concerned.

Advocate Vikram Huilgol, Amicus Curiae, submitted that the charges made in the case against the judicial officer were based on the acts taken in the course of discharge of his judicial responsibility. He argued that subsection (1 ) of Section 3 of the Judges (Protection) Act, 1985, preserves the judicial officer from liability in its entirety.

Counsel appealing to the claimant argued that the Court's suomotu authority under Section 482 CrPC can be exercised only in cases where there is a public interest and, thus, the exercise of jurisdiction in the present case was not necessary.

After hearing the parties' representations, the Court discussed the immunity given to judicial officers according to the terms of the various Acts.

The Court with regard to the Judges Protection Act, 1985, held

“…all the allegations made against him by the first respondent are about the acts done by the said Judicial Officer in the course of, acting or purporting to act in discharge of his official or judicial duty. The spoken words which are attributed to the first respondent by the second respondent in his complainant, are also spoken in the course of acting or purporting to act in discharge of his duties as a Judicial Officer. Therefore, Sub-Section (1) of Section 3 of the said Act of 1985 is clearly applicable and hence, the learned Judicial Magistrate could not have entertained the complaint filed by the first respondent as against the second respondent.”
-Karnataka High Court

The Court further observed that, in order to attract the protection of Section 3(1) of the 1985 Act, it was not necessary for the act, thing or word of the judicial officer to be done or to be said in good faith. The Court noted that this is an extra privilege given to judicial officers to defend them from both civil and criminal litigation.

On the argument of improper exercise of suomotu power under Secion 482 of CrPC, the Court held the following,

"There is nothing in Section 482 which suggests that the suomotu power of this Court can be exercised only in public interest. Assuming that it could be exercised only in public interest, there is definitely an element of public interest involved in the present petition. Independence of judiciary is one of the basic structures of the Constitution of India."
-Karnataka High Court

With these observations, the case with respect to the judicial officer lodged before the inferior court was quashed and set aside by the High Court.






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