The standard of proof required in recording a finding of conviction in a criminal case and in a departmental proceeding are distinct and different. Whereas in a criminal case, it is essential to prove a charge beyond all reasonable doubt, in a departmental proceeding preponderance of probability would serve the purpose. [See Kamaladevi Agarwal v. State of W.B. and Others, (2002) 1 SCC 555]

It is now well-settled by reason of a catena of decisions of Supreme Court that if an employee has been acquitted of a criminal charge, the same by itself would not be a ground not to initiate a departmental proceeding against him or to drop the same in the event an order of acquittal is passed.

In Manager, Reserve Bank of India, Bangalore v. S. Mani and Others [(2005) 5 SCC 100], the Court held:

“It is trite that a judgment of acquittal passed in favour of the employees by giving benefit of doubt per se would not be binding upon the employer.”[1]

Confession in Departmental Inquiry

In Kuldip Singh v. State of Punjab and Others [(1996) 10 SCC 659], the Court held:

“10. Now coming to the main contention of the learned counsel for the appellant, it is true that a confession or admission of guilt made by a person accused of an offence before, or while in the custody of, a police officer is not admissible in a court of law according to Sections 25 and 26 of the Evidence Act, 1872 but it is equally well settled that these rules of evidence do not apply to departmental enquiries.”

It is now well-settled that the provisions of the Evidence Act are not applicable in a departmental proceeding. [See Depot Manager, A.P. State Road Transport Corporation v. Mohd. Yousuf Miya and Others (1997) 2 SCC 699; Lalit Popli v. Canara Bank and Others (2003) 3 SCC 583; and N. Rajarathinam v. State of T.N. and Another (1996) 10 SCC 371].

In Commissioner of Police, New Delhi v. Narendar Singh (2006),  the court held,

“Section 25 of the Evidence Act and Section 162 of the Code of Criminal Procedure provides for an embargo as regard admissibility of a confession in a criminal trial. The said provisions have per se no application in a departmental proceeding. Section 25 of the Indian Evidence Act and Section 162 (c) of the Code of Criminal read thus:

25. Confession to police officer not to be proved.– No confession made to a police officer, shall be proved as against a person accused of any offence.

162. Statements to police not to be signed: Use of statements in evidence.-

(1) No statement made by any person to a police officer in the course of an investigation under this Chapter, shall, if reduced to writing, be signed by the person making it; nor shall any such statement or any record thereof, whether in a police diary or otherwise, or any part of such statement or record, be used for any purpose, save as hereinafter provided, at any inquiry or trial in respect of any offence under investigation at the time when such statement was made.

Section 26 also speaks about confession by an accused while in custody of police. Sections 25 and 26 of the Evidence Act although seek to achieve the same purpose but they operate in somewhat two different fields.

Section 25 raises an embargo as regard proof of confession before a police officer. The same need not be in police custody; whereas Section 26 raises a bar as regard admissibility of such confession, if made by an accused in the custody of a police officer although such a confession might have been made before a person who is not a police officer.

The policy underlying behind Sections 25 and 26 is to make it a substantive rule of law that confessions whenever and wherever made to the police, or while in the custody of the police to any person whomsoever unless made in the immediate presence of a magistrate, shall be presumed to have been obtained under the circumstances mentioned in Section 24 and, therefore, inadmissible, except so far as is provided by Section 27 of the Act.

A confession would mean incriminating statement made to the police suggesting inference of the commission of the crime and it, therefore, is confined to the evidences to be adduced in a court of law. If the provisions of the Evidence Act are not attracted in a departmental proceeding, a fortiori Sections 25 and 26 shall not apply.”

In State of Andhra Pradesh and Others v. Chitra Venkata Rao [(1975) 2 SCC 557], the Court held:

“The High Court was not correct in holding that the domestic enquiry before the Tribunal was the same as prosecution in a criminal case.”

It was further held:

“The scope of Article 226 in dealing with departmental inquiries has come up before this Court. Two propositions were laid down by this Court in State of A.P. v. S. Sree Rama Rao.

First, there is no warrant for the view that in considering whether a public officer is guilty of misconduct charged against him, the rule followed in criminal trials that an offence is not established unless proved by evidence beyond reasonable doubt to the satisfaction of the Court must be applied. If that rule be not applied by a domestic tribunal of inquiry the High Court in a petition under Article 226 of the Constitution is not competent to declare the order of the authorities holding a departmental enquiry invalid.

The High Court is not a court of appeal under Article 226 over the decision of the authorities holding a departmental enquiry against a public servant. The Court is concerned to determine whether the enquiry is held by an authority competent in that behalf and according to the procedure prescribed in that behalf, and whether the rules of natural justice are not violated.

Second, where there is some evidence which the authority entrusted with the duty to hold the enquiry has accepted and which evidence may reasonably support the conclusion that the delinquent officer is guilty of the charge, it is not the function of the High Court to review the evidence and to arrive at an independent finding on the evidence.

The High Court may interfere where the departmental authorities have held the proceedings against the delinquent in a manner inconsistent with the rules of natural justice or in violation of the statutory rules prescribing the mode of enquiry or where the authorities have disabled themselves from reaching a fair decision by some considerations extraneous to the evidence and the merits of the case or by allowing themselves to be influenced by irrelevant considerations or where the conclusion on the very face of it is so wholly arbitrary and capricious that no reasonable person could ever have arrived at that conclusion.

The departmental authorities are, if the enquiry is otherwise properly held, the sole judges of facts and if there is some legal evidence on which their findings can be based, the adequacy or reliability of that evidence is not a matter which can be permitted to be canvassed before the High Court in a proceeding for a writ under Article 226.”


Commissioner of Police, New Delhi v. Narendra Singh (2006)

[1] See Bank of India and Another v. Degala Suryanarayana (1999) 5 SCC 762; Ajit Kumar Nag v. General Manager (PJ), Indian Oil Corporation Ltd., Haldia and Others (2005) 7 SCC 764