India: Interpretation and the Position law - - on Admission of Guilt During/Prior Disciplinary Enquiry

Last Updated: 4 December 2002
Article by Shivaji Rao

Evidentiary Value of the expression admission / confession: In the case of Sahoo vs. State of U.P, AIR 1966 SC 40 the Supreme Court has observed "It is said that one cannot confess to himself; he can only confess to another. This raises an interesting point, which falls to be decided on a consideration of the relevant provisions of the Evidence Act. Section 24 to 30 of the Evidence Act deal with the admissibility of confession by accused persons in criminal cases. But the expression "confession" is not defined. The Judicial Committee in Pakala Narayanaswami v. Emperor, 66 Ind App 66: (AIR 1939 PC 47) has defined the said expression thus:

"A confession is a statement made by an accused which must either admit in terms the offence, or at any rate substantially all the facts which constitute the offence."

A scrutiny of the provisions of Ss. 17 to 30 of the Evidence Act discloses, as one learned author puts it that statement is a genus, admission is the species and confession is the sub-species. Shortly stated, a confession is a statement made by an accused admitting his guilt. What does the expression "statement" mean? The dictionary meaning of the word "statement" is "the act of stating, reciting or presenting verbally or on paper." The term "statement", therefore, includes both oral and written statements. It is also a necessary ingredient of the term that it shall be communicated to another ? The dictionary meaning of the term does not warrant any such extension; or the reason of the rule underlying the doctrine of admission or confession demands it. Admissions and confessions are exceptions to the hearsay rule. The Evidence Act places them in the category of relevant evidence presumably on the grounds that, as they are declarations against the interest of the person making them, they are probably true. The probative value of an admission or a confession does not depend upon its communication to another, though, just like any other piece of evidence, it can be admitted in evidence only on proof. This proof in the case of oral admission or confession can be offered only by witnesses who heard the admission or confession, as the case may be".

In the case of K.S Srinivasan vs. Union of India, AIR 1958 SC 419 the apex court has held that Admission - Probative value - An admission is not conclusive proof of the matter admitted, though it may in certain circumstances operate as an estoppel. Relying on the ratio of the said judgment the court in the case of Allahabad Bank vs. Pronab Kumar Mukherjee, 1993 I LLJ 390 has held that an admission may not in all cases do away with the requirement of holding an enquiry. Even if no enquiry is required to be held in a particular case, the conditions laid down in the relevant rules should be strictly followed

No enquiry necessary when guilt is admitted – In the case of Central Bank of India vs. Karunamoy Banerjee, AIR 1968 SC 266 the Supreme Court has observed that "We must, however, emphasize that the rules of natural justice, as laid down by this Court, will have to be observed, in the conduct of a domestic enquiry against a workman. If the allegations are denied by the workman, it is needless to state that the burden of proving the truth of those allegations will be on the management; and the witnesses called, by the management, must be allowed to be cross-examined, by the workman, and the latter must also be given an opportunity to examine himself and adduce any other evidence that he might choose, in support of his plea. But, if the workman admits his guilt, to insist upon the management to let in evidence about the allegations, will, in our opinion, only be an empty formality". In nutshell, if a workman against whom disciplinary proceedings are instituted, admits his guilt, there is no necessity for the management to hold any enquiry.

The Apex Court in the case of Channabasappa Basappa Happali, vs. The State of Mysore, AIR 1972 SC32, has observed that – "it was contended on the basis of the ruling reported in R. v. Durham Quarter Sessions; Ex parte Virgo, (1952 (2) QBD 1) that on the facts admitted in the present case, a plea of guilty ought not to be entered upon the record and a plea of not guilty entered instead. Under the English law, a plea of guilty has to be unequivocal and the Court must ask the person and if the plea of guilty is qualified the Court must not enter a plea of guilty but one of not guilty. The Police constable here was not on his trial for a criminal offence. It was a departmental enquiry, on facts of which due notice was given to him. He admitted the facts. In fact his counsel argued before us that he admitted the facts but not his guilt. We do not see any distinction between admission of facts and admission of guilt. When he admitted the facts, he was guilty. The facts speak for themselves. It was a clear case of indiscipline and nothing less".

In case a workman admits the charge against him or makes an unconditional and unqualified confession then there is nothing more to be done away of enquiry and it cannot be argued that the procedure of departmental enquiry should have been applied notwithstanding such admission or confession held in J.L Toppo vs. Tata Locomative & Engg. Co. Ltd., 1964 ICR 586 (IC).

The Hon’ble Andhra Pradesh High Court in the case of Instrumentation Ltd., vs. P.O. Labour Court, 1988 II LLJ 492 has held that - Section 58 of the Evidence Act lays down that facts admitted need not be proved, and therefore, where the facts are admitted and those are sufficient to make out a case of misconduct, any further departmental enquiry would be an empty formality.

In the case of P.K Thankachan vs. Thalandu services Co-op Bank, 1994 II LLJ 423, the Hon’ble High Court of Kerala has held that - Evidence is required to prove disputed facts and no admitted facts. Where an admission is made after knowing the charges, no evidence is required to be held. It would be a different matter if the admission of guilt is by an employee who could not understand what the charges were or if he was induced or coerced into admitting his guilt.

In the case of Manger Boisahabi tea Estate vs. P.O. Labour Court, 1981 Lab IC 557, the Hon’ble Guahati High Court has held that - a misconduct owned and admitted by the delinquent is antithesis of the violation of principles of natural justice or victimisation as understood in industrial relations, as the question of prejudice does not arise under such circumstances.

In the case of Mnajunatha Gowda vs. Director General of Central Reserve Police Force, 1995 (70) FLR 659 held by the Karnataka High Court that, there is no infringement whatsoever of the rules of natural justice if no enquiry is conducted after the charge is admitted by the delinquent employee. The Andhra Pradesh High Court has further clarified in the case of K. Venkateshwarlu vs. Nagarjuna Gramin Bank, 1995 II LLJ 492, that even if the employer holds a departmental enquiry in-spite of such admission of guilt, and the Court finds some flaw or defect in such unnecessary enquiry conducted by the employer, the Court cannot set aside the order made by the employer imposing punishment. It is so because even if a defective enquiry is conducted, no prejudice is caused to the delinquent because action could have been taken against him on the basis of admission.

Do’s and Don’ts of admission so as to avert the necessity of holding enquiry. - The Apex Court in the case of Jagadish Prasad Saxena vs. Sate of M.P, AIR 1961 SC 1070 held that, as the statements made by the appellant did not amount to a clear or unambiguous admission of his guilt, failure to hold a formal enquiry constituted a serious infirmity in the order of dismissal passed against him, as the appellant had no opportunity at all of showing cause against the charge framed against him and so the requirement of Art. 311(2) was not satisfied. - - Even if the appellant had made some statements which amounted to admission, it was open to doubt whether he could be removed from service on the strength of the said alleged admissions without holding a formal enquiry as required by the rules.

It is of the utmost importance that in taking disciplinary action against a public servant a proper departmental enquiry must be held against him after supplying him with a charge-sheet, and he must be allowed a reasonable opportunity to meet the allegations contained in the charge-sheet. The departmental enquiry is not an empty formality; it is a serious proceeding intended to give the officer concerned a chance to meet the charge and to prove his innocence. In the absence of any such enquiry it would not be fair to strain facts against the appellant and to hold that in view of the admissions made by him the enquiry would have served no useful purpose. That is a matter of speculation which is wholly out of place in dealing with cases of orders passed against public servants terminating their services.

In Allahabad Bank vs. Pronab Kumar Mukherjee, 1993 I LLJ 390, it has been held that an admission has to be construed strictly because it deprives a delinquent employee of his right to show that the allegations against him have no basic at all and that he is innocent. An admission of guilt is different from acceptance of moral obligation. If the employee denies the charges levelled against him but makes good the shortage considering that as in-charge of the department it is his moral obligation, it cannot be taken to be an admission of his guilt. The disciplinary authority should enquire as to whether it was an act of the employee as in-charge or of the other employees under him which resulted in the shortage.

In the case of ACC Babock Ltd., vs. Bhimsa, (1987) 71 FJR 384 it has been held, if a person admits the allegation but gives reasons for the same, it does not amount to admission of guilt. It only amounts to accepting the fact of allegation but under extenuating circumstances which may be justified. In such a case, an enquiry is to be held as the workman has a right to lead evidence to support the plea of extenuating circumstances which may lead the management to take a lenient view.

Further it has been held in the case of P.Selvaraj vs. M.D Kattabamman Transport Corpn. Ltd., 1999 I LLJ 1186 it has been held that where the employee stated in his statement that whatever that had happened, had happened because of the problems which were created by the passengers and their quarrel with him and that he had not consciously committed any mistake, it was held that this observation could not be taken to be an admission. Merely picking out a single sentence from the entire explanation, and treating the statement of the employee as amounting to admission of guilt could not be sustained.

In Associated Cement Co. Ltd. Vs. Abdul Gaffar, 1980 Lab IC 683. the workman had contended that his confession of guilt during the inquiry was given on an assurance by the inquiry office that the workman would not be dismissed from service. This was denied by the inquiry officer. The Court felt on an examination of the relevant facts that the workman’s plea appeared to be an afterthought. It was further observed by the Court that as a rule of prudence, whenever there is a conflict of versions, the version given by the inquiry officer should normally be accepted.

Fall-out the judicial decisions which are to kept in mind are as under:

Principles regarding admission must be complied with:

  1. Confession statements should be scrutinized with utmost care & caution
  2. Confession should be in terms of the misconduct / charges.
  3. All the ingredients of the charge must be admitted in the confession.
  4. Confession should be interpreted as whole and an admission along with explanations / reasons does not amount to confession.
  5. Confession should be unconditional & unqualified.
  6. Confession should be secured without threat or coercion.
  7. Confession is also vitiated by inducement.
  8. Admission or confession before issue of charge sheet can be used as evidence but does not obviate enquiry.

When admission is withdrawn. – When a confession / admission is retracted it becomes doubtful and therefore, the principles of natural justice mandates that it should be corroborated. In the case of Thotapalli Radhakrishnamurthy vs. Divisional Manager, United India Insurance Co., 1982 Lab IC 1745 the court has observed that it is not safe to act upon the admission of the delinquent when it is denied and when it is alleged to have been extracted by coercion. Further in the case of Madikal Service Co-op. Bank ltd., vs. Labour Court (1987) 71 FJR 322, it has been held that where the charge-sheeted employee had made some inculpatory statement before the audit part and also give a general statement in a letter that he had committed mistakes and was, therefore, guilty, but in his written statement of defence denied every one of the charges and also challenged the said inculpatory statement as being not voluntary, it was held that the Labour Court was justified in concluding that the employee did not pleas guilty to the charges. There should have been a proper enquiry examining the witnesses and the employee being allowed to cross-examine the witnesses and adduce evidence.

When fact of misconduct has to be established in-spite of admission. – In Natvarbhai S. Makwana vs. Union Bank of India, 1985 II LLJ 296, it was held by a Single Judge of the Gujarat High Court (at p. 302 of LLJ) that even in case of admission, the factum of misconduct must be established. Dealing with a case of theft or misappropriation of Bank money, the Court observed that it might happen that the bank authorities may bona fide believe that there is theft or misappropriation, and later on in audit, it might be discovered that there was accounting mistake and no theft or misappropriation whatsoever. To avoid such possibility, it is always necessary that the factum of misconduct be established. The delinquent employee may be induced to confess the guilt for various reasons. It is submitted that, putting it in simple language, the Court held that it should first be proved that the misconduct has been committed, and the admission would be relevant only with regard to the question whether the employee concerned is guilty of the said misconduct. It is submitted that such a dictum may hold good only in respect of a limited class of cases like theft or misappropriation, and it would be safer in such cases for the employer to prove the occurrence of theft on misappropriation and also consequent loss caused thereby even in case of admission.

The content of this article does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied on in that way. Specific advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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