Section 15 specifies that Probation Officers shall be deemed to be public servants within the meaning of Section 21 of the Indian Penal Code while the next section, i.e., Section 16 affords protection to them against legal proceedings for action taken in good faith in discharge of their duties in pursuance of the Probation of Offenders Act or rules or orders made thereunder. Although the term “good faith” has not been defined anywhere in the Act, it refers to acts done bona fide without malice.
The Courts had occasion to interpret the term “good faith” in a number of cases. Thus in Bisheswar Misra v. Sweta Kumar Panigrahi, the High Court of Orissa observed that an act shall be deemed to have been done in good faith when it is, in fact, done honestly, whether it is done negligently or not.
The Supreme Court in Harbhajan Singh v. State of Punjab, while dealing with the plea of “good faith” observed that “good faith” is a question of fact and must be considered on the facts and circumstances of each case.
In view of the multifarious functions assigned to Probation Officer under the law, he plays a pivotal role in implementation of probation service. He should, therefore, not only be a good administrator but must also possess the qualities of a dedicated social worker and an efficient investigator. He should be in a position to visualise the possible hurdles that may come in the way of smooth functioning of probation scheme. He being a public servant under Section 15 of the Probation of Offenders Act, has been extended sufficient protection for the acts done by him in good faith in proper discharge of his duties as a functionary of the probation system.
Sections 15 and 16 of the Act have a twin object of protecting the honest and upright probation officials against legal action for the acts done bona fide and at the same time extend due safeguard to the probation from arbitrary decisions of the probation officers. While dealing with the problems, the Probation Officer should not allow his biases or prejudices to creep into the assessment process else the very purpose of objective assessment of the probationer would be defeated, which in turn, may adversely affect his future rehabilitation. This would also disentitle the erring Probation Officer from the protection available to him under Section 16 of the Act.