3-judge panel to look into harassment charge against CJI, first meet on Friday

Hindustan Times, New Delhi | By
Apr 23, 2019 11:45 PM IST

The move came a day after the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) and Supreme Court Advocates on Record Association (SCORA) called for the appointment of a panel to investigate the allegations.

A three-member committee of sitting Supreme Court judges, justice SA Bobde, justice NV Ramana and justice Indira Banerjee , will look into the sexual harassment allegations levelled by a former woman staffer of the top court against Chief Justice of India (CJI) Ranjan Gogoi after a full court passed a resolution to this effect on Tuesday, judges with direct knowledge of the matter said, asking not to be identified.

Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi(PTI file photo)
Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi(PTI file photo)

The move came a day after the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) and Supreme Court Advocates on Record Association (SCORA) called for the appointment of a panel to investigate the allegations.

A resolution was circulated by justice Bobde to all the judges – there are 26 excluding the CJI – in chambers as against the practice of calling a formal meeting. One of the judges cited in the first instance said a meeting would have taken time and delayed the setting up of the panel.

The second senior-most judge in the top court, justice Bobde took the decision on the administrative side after CJI Gogoi recused himself from taking a call on the matter on April 21.

The CJI withdrew himself after criticism came from various quarters over the way he conducted judicial proceedings in the matter on Saturday by heading a three-judge bench that discussed the allegation against him.

A second judge added that the resolution came about only after CJI Gogoi agreed to be investigated. “The decision to have a probe into the allegations of sexual harassment was taken after the Chief Justice expressed his willingness to be investigated,” the judge added.

The panel will hold its first meeting in the Supreme Court on Friday, April 26, when the complainant will appear before it and explain her allegations.

The Secretary General of Supreme Court has also been asked to remain present before the panel with all the records pertaining to the incident. The proceedings will be in-camera.

One of the issues the committee is expected to look into is the reason why the complainant did not file a statutory appeal, as allowed under the rules, challenging her dismissal in December. According to a senior officer of the registry who asked not to be named, the complainant was told about the remedy available to her but chose not to avail it.

Senior advocate Rajeev Dhawan said the formation of the committee and CJI’s recusal are both belated and added that the CJI should have never been involved in the matter from the first day. “He got involved when the secretary general of SC responded to the query made by the media and the second time, when he sat on the bench (on Saturday).” The senior counsel also said that once the official statement of the secretary general termed the allegations made by the woman staffer as scurrilous, the judges should have initiated a case under the contempt of court law. “If it was a clear case of scandalizing the judges then they should have issued a notice to the woman for she should have been given a chance to present her truth as defence. The in-house procedure is to protect the judiciary, which indeed they are supposed to, but what will be the future course of action after this?.”

On Saturday, the CJI convened an urgent suo motu hearing into the allegations levelled against him. A three-member bench headed by him and comprising justices Arun Misra and Sanjiv Khanna was set up. During the hearing the CJI termed the allegations an attempt to deactivate the office of the CJI. At the end of the hearing, however, he did not sign the order, saying he wanted to recuse himself. The order bore the signature of the other two judges. Both SCBA and SCORA said the bench had assembled in violation of the procedure established by law.

In a related development, a newly constituted bench led by justice Mishra issued notice to the lawyer who claimed there was a larger conspiracy to frame the CJI. The lawyer was asked to appear before the bench, also comprising justices RF Nariman and Deepak Gupta, on Wednesday along with the material in support of his claim. The court also directed the police commissioner to provide “adequate police protection” to the lawyer while noting that he has expressed apprehensions.

On Wednesday, the Patiala House court will also take up an application by Delhi police seeking cancellation of bail of the woman who has levelled allegations against the CJI. She is facing criminal proceedings in a cheating case where the complainant has complained to police that the woman, after being released on bail , has been threatening him.

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    Bhadra is a legal correspondent and reports Supreme Court proceedings, besides writing on legal issues. A law graduate, Bhadra has extensively covered trial of high-profile criminal cases. She has had a short stint as a crime reporter too.

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