Published on: 11 September 2023 at 10:46 IST
The Karnataka High Court has overturned a decision by the respondents that denied a petitioner’s request to have legal representation during a departmental enquiry.
The petitioner, who faced challenges such as hearing impairment and age (64 years), along with a concurrent criminal case, had submitted a representation seeking permission to engage a Legal Practitioner to defend him in the departmental enquiry.
The request was promptly declined by the respondents based on the Company’s rules that prohibited the engagement of an Advocate in such cases.
Justice M. Nagapraasanna, presiding over the case, stated, “Above all, an employee, at the age of 63, who is to face a departmental enquiry along with the criminal trial becomes ‘tongue-tied,’ and therefore he would require the assistance of a Legal Practitioner.
The factors favoring the petitioner for the grant of such benefit far outweigh the tenor and purport of the Rule which prohibits it, more so in the light of the rules not being inflexible. Therefore, in the peculiar facts of the case, I deem it appropriate to permit the petitioner to be defended by an Advocate in the departmental enquiry, as ‘a hexagenerian cannot be left tongue-tied.'”
The petitioner, a Divisional Manager at the United India Insurance Company Limited, faced both a criminal case and a departmental enquiry stemming from the same incident before his retirement.
The allegations in the departmental enquiry accused the petitioner of settling several matters in violation of Company guidelines during a Mega Lokadalath event. Although the petitioner responded to the charge sheet, the Disciplinary Authority found his reply unsatisfactory. Consequently, an Enquiry Officer was appointed to conduct the enquiry, and a Presenting Officer was designated to represent the Management’s case. The petitioner’s request to engage a legal practitioner was denied.
Subsequently, the petitioner approached the court seeking relief, resulting in an interim stay of further proceedings in the departmental enquiry. The respondents later sought the vacation of this interim order, leading to a final decision based on the consent of both parties.
After careful examination of the case’s facts and relevant rules, especially Rule 25(6) of the United India Insurance Company (conduct, discipline and appeal) Rules, 2014, the Court interpreted the rule to allow for exceptions based on the specific circumstances of each case. The rule was not seen as an absolute prohibition on engaging an Advocate.
The Court considered the petitioner’s hearing disability, age, financial hardship due to withheld retirement benefits, and the simultaneous criminal case as compelling reasons to make an exception to the rule.
The Court cited the precedent set in the case of Ramesh Chandra V. Delhi University, which highlighted the importance of legal representation for employees facing departmental enquiries, particularly when the Enquiry Officer is legally trained.
Consequently, the Court granted the petitioner the right to be represented by an Advocate in the departmental enquiry, emphasizing that this permission should not be misused to unduly delay the proceedings.
The Court quashed the challenged order, affirmed the petitioner’s entitlement to legal representation in the departmental enquiry, and stressed the need for cooperation to ensure the efficient conclusion of the proceedings.
Case Title: T Ramesh Babu v. The Inquiry Authority & Ors.