SC: “Criminal Prosecution Cannot Be Initiated Against Accused Exonerated on Merits in Departmental Proceedings”

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On 8th September 2020, the Apex Court heard the case of Ashoo Surendranath Tewari v Deputy Superintendent of Police, EOW, CBI. The Bench comprised of Hon’ble Justice RF Nariman, Hon’ble Justice Navin Sinha, and Hon’ble Justice Indira Banerjee.

Brief Facts

The Appellant accused in the present case was an employee in the Small Industries Development Bank of India (SIDBI) diverted funds to the co-accused Muthukumar. He stated that he was a victim of Muthukumar’s plot and relied on the Central Vigilance Commission to prove the same. The High Court refused to discharge him hence he approached the Supreme Court.

Court’s Observation

The Court held that if the Accused is duly exonerated on merits in departmental proceedings and the allegations against him are not sustainable, then a criminal prosecution on the same set of facts and circumstances is not allowed. This is because the standard of proof in departmental proceedings is lower than the standard of proof in criminal proceedings. In the former, the preponderance of probability matters whereas the case is to be subsequently proved beyond a reasonable doubt in the latter. The Bench then referred to the case of Radheshyam Kejriwal v State of West Bengal and reiterated and summarised the principles as follows –

  1. Adjudication proceedings and criminal prosecution can be simultaneously launched as both are independent.
  2. The decision in the adjudication proceeding should not be compulsorily rendered before initiating criminal prosecution.
  3. The findings against a person in adjudication proceedings are not binding in criminal prosecution. 
  4. The proceedings by the Enforcement Directorate shall not attract the provisions of Article 20(2) of the Constitution of India or Section 300 of the Code of Criminal Procedure as it is not considered prosecution by a competent authority of law.
  5. The finding in the adjudicate proceedings in favour of the person facing trial for the same violation shall depend upon the nature of the finding. Further, the prosecution may continue if the exoneration in adjudication proceedings is on technical grounds and not on merits.
  6. In the case of exoneration based on merits, when the person has been duly found innocent, criminal prosecution on the same facts cannot be therefore allowed. This is because the standard of proof in criminal cases is higher than departmental proceedings. 

Court’s Decision

Consequently, the Court discharged the Accused and stated that according to the CVC order, the chances of conviction on the same facts in a criminal trial appear to be bleak.


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