SC backs 'concept of deterrent punishment’

Top court sets aside FSC decision on reinstatement of head postmaster after his acquittal from NAB proceedings


Hasnaat Maik August 14, 2022
Supreme Court of Pakistan. PHOTO: AFP/FILE

ISLAMABAD:

The Supreme Court has advocated the 'concept of deterrent punishment' in service matters.

It noted that sometimes a little negligence or inefficiency might cause a serious disaster and stern end results. “Therefore, at the time of appraising any act of misconduct contrasted with the penalty imposed by the management, the Service Tribunal is obligated to reevaluate the evidence all inclusive and then inquiry findings with recommendations,” read a nine-page judgment authored by Justice Muhammad Ali Mazhar while setting aside the Federal Service Tribunal’s (FSC) decision on the reinstatement of the head postmaster after his acquittal from National Accountabilty Bureau (NAB) proceedings.

“[The] foresight of deterrent punishment is not only to maintain balance with the seriousness of wrong done by a person but also to make an example for others as a preventive measure for reformation of the society,” the verdict added.

The SC observed that the respondent was found guilty in discharge of his duties, hence he could not be let free or exonerated.

A division bench of the apex court led by Justice Sajjad Ali Shah heard the matter.

The judgment stated: “According to clause (b) of Section 2 of the RSO 2000, the definition of 'misconduct’ included conduct prejudicial to good order or service discipline or conduct unbecoming of an officer and a gentleman or involvement or participation for gain either directly or indirectly in industry, trade or speculative transactions or abuse or misuse of the official position to gain undue advantage or assumption of financial or other obligations to private institutions or persons such that might cause embarrassment in the performance of official duties or functions.”

It added that Section 3 of the same ordinance was “germane” to the dismissal, removal and compulsory retirement of certain persons in government or corporation service whose powers could be exercised by the competent authority in the circumstances and state of affairs if the employee was found to be inefficient, guilty of being habitually absent from duty without prior approval of leave, or guilty of misconduct or corruption.

However, the court noted that before taking any drastic action, it was incumbent upon the competent authority to inform the accused in writing the grounds of the action and give them a reasonable opportunity of showing cause.

The court also noted that the articulation that misappropriation of huge amount of public money from saving accounts being not in the knowledge of the respondent was nothing but a “figment of imagination and also beyond reasonable comprehension”.

"In contrast, it is a deceptive and dishonest plea in our sagacity, which in fact aggravates the degree of negligence, inefficiency and incompetence and proves that the respondent was not capable or qualified to hold any responsible post as he failed to sense any act of embezzlement and misappropriation of public money in the post office under his command … [this] could not have happened had the respondent performed his duties diligently and kept a vigilant eye on the books of account with periodic exercise of reconciliation for prompt checking and reporting in case any mishap or misappropriation of public funds is detected in the accounts, the judgment read.

“Being the postmaster, he was responsible for overseeing all aspects of the post office including the management of staff and the services or products offered by the post office. The corruption of substantial sums of public money could not be taken so lightly and that is why the respondent was dismissed by the management, but the Service Tribunal without any just cause took the lenient view whereas the respondent did not deserve any compassion or sympathy,” it added.

The order stated that common sense or realism of criminal trial was to mete out punishment of the offences committed by the accused while departmental inquiry was started off for a probe into the allegations of misconduct in order to maintain and uphold discipline and decorum in the institution and efficiency of the department to strengthen and preserve public confidence.

The judgment also noted that a civil servant could not escape departmental proceedings or consequences thereof on account of his acquittal on a criminal charge.

"While facing expulsive proceedings on departmental side on account of his indictment on criminal charge, he may not save his job in the event of acquittal as the department may still have reasons to conscionably consider his stay in the service as inexpedient. The department can assess the suitability of a civil servant, confronted with a charge through a fact-finding method, which somewhat inquisitorial in nature, but without the heavier procedural riders otherwise required in criminal jurisdiction to eliminate any potential risk of error,” the verdict read.

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