Courts can’t act as ‘super examiner’, rules Punjab and Haryana HC

Apr 11, 2021 01:38 AM IST

Dismisses a plea for re-evaluation wherein a candidate could not qualify Punjab judicial services exam for interview stage by 0.37 marks

The Punjab and Haryana high court (HC) has held that courts can’t act as “super examiner” and order re-evaluation of answer sheets.

Courts can’t act as ‘super examiner’, rules Punjab and Haryana HC
Courts can’t act as ‘super examiner’, rules Punjab and Haryana HC

It is for the examiner to decide the manner in which he/she expects a candidate to answer a question in a competitive exam, ruled the HC bench of justices Jaswant Singh and Sant Parkash while dismissing a plea against the Punjab civil service (judicial branch)-2019 exam conducted by the Punjab Public Service Commission (PPSC) in which a candidate could not qualify for the interview stage by 0.37 marks. The petitioner, Nishant Dutta, had sought re-evaluation of his English language paper.

The court had framed two issues in the case -- whether courts should interfere in the case where multiple choice questions (MCQ) are under dispute and whether courts can order re-evaluation of answer sheets in subjective examinations.

The court said for MCQ exams, even if there is a specific bar on re-evaluation of answer sheets, there cannot be a complete ‘hands-off’ approach by the courts. However, it is in rarest of the rare cases, where it is shown without any doubt and without resorting to the process of inferential reasoning that the question/answer is incorrect, the court can order re-evaluation. “The courts have never suggested complete hands-off approach. The writ court would have inherent jurisdiction to interfere, depending upon the facts of the case even if an examination is conducted under the supervision of a subject experts. The court cannot be a mute spectator and can in rare and exceptional cases permit for re-evaluation even when it is not permitted under statute, rule, regulation governing the examination,” the bench said. For that, that it needs to be established that a material error has been committed in the answer key, it added.

As of subjective questions, the court said it is best if left for the experts who have conducted the examination to decide the evaluation of marks as courts cannot assume the role of an examiner. “For a subjective-type answer, in which the marking has been uniformly done, the courts are required to adopt a hands-off approach while entertaining a prayer for re-evaluation,” the bench said, adding that merely knowing the correct answer was not important for examiner but answering it correctly with usage of correct grammar was paramount, which is best examined by an expert.

These factors cannot be considered by the courts. The court can never sit as a court of appeal on the marking done by an examiner and sit in the armchair of an examiner and find the true intent behind his/her marking, the bench added.

To the argument raised that issue should be dealt with sympathetically as the candidate missed his chance by a whisker, the court observed that in case of recruitment, sympathy/empathy does not matter. “There will always be some candidates who will fall out of zone of consideration, may be by a huge margin or by a whisker. The court cannot be permitted awarding marks out of compassion, as it would run against the underlying principle of selection based on merit,” it reasoned.

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