The Madras High Court has said it is unfortunate that a former Supreme Court Judge should agree to be a domestic enquiry officer notwithstanding a constitutional bar under Art.124 (7).

“Having held a high office in the Supreme Court, to accept the assignment of conducting a domestic enquiry should have been avoided, since the very report given by such a person may be put to criticism before the court at the instance of an aggrieved individual,” Justice K. Chandru observed. “It is rather unfortunate that a retired Judge of the Supreme Court should agree to be a domestic enquiry officer notwithstanding the constitutional bar under Article 124 (7) of the Constitution.” (The clause says, “No person who has held office as a Judge of the Supreme Court shall plead or act in any court or before any authority within the territory of India).”

Therefore, he did not accept the enquiry report, besides other legal flaws. The court was passing a common order on a petition by R. Santhakumari, Headmistress of Moongibai Goenka Girls Higher Secondary School, Sowcarpet, a private aided school, seeking to set aside an order of July last year placing her under suspension pending approval by the Education Department of the institution’s demand for dismissing her from service.

The management filed a writ petition challenging an order of August 17 last year of the District Educational Officer, North Chennai, taking exception to placing the headmistress under suspension pending approval of the department.

The DEO refused approval as the rules regarding conduct of domestic enquiry under the Tamil Nadu Recognised Private Schools (Regulation) Act were not followed.

Mr. Justice Chandru said at every stage of enquiry, i.e., framing of charge memo, calling for explanation, conducting an enquiry and finally passing orders, the school committee should be necessarily informed. In the present case, the charges were not framed by the committee. It was done by the school secretary.

Though it was stated that the committee had resolved in March last year to appoint Justice S. Mohan, a retired Supreme Court Judge, as an enquiry officer with his consent, nowhere was any explanation called for from the teacher in respect of the consolidated charge that was made after superseding the previous charges. Allowing the headmistress’s petition, the Judge, citing an earlier court decision, said the appointment of an outside authority for conducting the enquiry and also asking the very same authority to give findings including recommendation for punishment was uncalled for and could not be supported by the court.

After getting the domestic enquiry officer’s report, the management had convened a meeting of the committee on July 6, read out the report and accepted the same without giving an opportunity to the teacher to give her views on the report and that the report copy was given at the meeting.

The court dismissed the school’s petition. It said the authority constituted for granting approval was entitled to go into not only the procedural requirement, but even on the question of penalty. When a legal provision was available for granting prior approval, there was no question of termination, including suspending the teacher pending approval and any decision contrary was void.