The Women in Criminal Law Association (WCLA) has condemned the manner in which any questioning of lapses in the inquiry into the complaint of sexual harassment against the Chief Justice of India (CJI) Ranjan Gogoi are being “silenced” by police detention of peaceful protesters and even the Bar Council of India and other bar associations issuing diktats against any criticism.
The association said that what followed after the former junior court assistant made a complaint of sexual harassment against the CJI “has been a complete travesty of procedural and substantive justice.”
The People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) also denounced the in-house three-judge committee report that gave a clean chit to the CJI. “The findings of the `In-House Committee’ seriously and grievously wounds one of the primary constructs of the rule of law, that justice should not only be done, `but seen to be done’,” it said in a press statement.
The PUCL said the decision not to make public the panel report only compounded in the public eye the apprehension that the entire judicial system in the highest court of the country did not act in a fair and judicious manner in handling the complaint of the woman.
The WCLA questioned why peaceful protesters were detained on Tuesday. “There was no threat of violence or even unrest that would lead to the imposition of Orders under Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, or to prevent protest under the guise of preventive detention,” it said in a press statement.
“The detention of peaceful protesters was evidently aimed only at quelling free speech and not at maintaining any kind of ‘public order’,” it said.
Plea to make report public
The association demanded that the report exonerating the CJI must be made public after appropriate redaction to withhold the identification of persons, so that the public could debate the correctness and soundness of the reasoning for the exoneration of the CJI.
It claimed that the committee had not provided any justification for not supplying a copy of the report to the complainant, which is a basic tenet of natural justice.
“Given the public interest in the fair administration of justice vis-a-vis the highest judicial officer, the Committee cannot remain under the cover of confidentiality. The report must at the very least be provided to the complainant,” it said.
The association questioned why the committee went ahead with the proceeding after the complainant withdrew participating from the committee hearings citing strong reasons of apprehension of bias.
“On the very next day, the CJI deposed before the Committee, which in and of itself reeks of bias and impropriety,” it said. It asked what factual inquiry had been conducted in terms of the affidavit filed by the complainant. It pointed out that legal representation was a constitutionally protected right. It sought answers from the top court as to why the complainant was denied legal representation.
Women complainants were being set to impossible standards with their motives questioned whatever the manner of raising a complaint, it said.
Bar Council’s stand
The Bar Council had urged lawyers to “drop this episode from our minds” since those “whose livelihood is attached to it” would “never disrespect the Supreme Court,” it stated.
“As lawyers we believe that our first commitment is to the values of the Constitution and we refuse to unquestioning accept an illegal and unjust process. The so-called ‘In-House’ inquiry by three judges of the Supreme Court was in complete derogation of laws and norms on sexual harassment emanating from Vishakha and the POSH Act. Further, a real apprehension of bias goes to the root of fairness and the Court must refer the complaint to an external body for inquiry into the complaint,” it said.
The association demanded that the larger institutional questions raised must be addressed by appropriate modifications to the in-house procedure, including providing for the constitution of a permanent non-partisan body for cases where the CJI and judges of the Supreme Court are accused of sexual harassment. “This must comprise a procedure that is sensitive to the power imbalance between judges and ordinary persons and other concerns of victims of sexual harassment,” it stated.