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Supreme Court zeroes in on ‘harass’ judge; support for disclosure grows CJI lauded for probe order
New Delhi, Nov. 15: The Supreme Court appears to have identified the former judge who is accused of sexually assaulting at least two law interns while in office, sometime about two years ago.
On the Chief Justice of India’s directions, the court registry has checked the intern-assignment records relating to judges who retired in the past two years, sources told The Telegraph.
They said that while convention demanded that an intern work with a particular judge for only a month, the accused judge seemed to have insisted that the women interns work with him for six months.
According to the sources, the feeling among the higher judiciary is that the judge should be named, if only to end the speculation about the other judges who retired recently. So far, the accused judge has not been named.
Legal experts have complimented the Chief Justice for setting up a three-judge panel to probe the allegations after one intern came out with sexual assault charges on November 6. Since then, a second intern has made similar accusations against the same judge.
Such a panel has no precedent in the Supreme Court’s history, nor has any sitting or former apex court judge ever faced charges of sexual harassment at the workplace before.
Legal experts said the Constitution had no provision for the apex court setting up such a committee but added that the top court could certainly do so under the extraordinary powers granted to it by Article 142.
What the committee will do is question the first intern (she has been requested to appear before it on Monday, November 18) and then confront the accused judge.
If the panel prima facie finds truth in the allegations, it can direct the police to register an FIR. A PTI report said police have initiated a preliminary probe into the case.
If the judge is convicted of assaulting or using criminal force with intent to outrage a woman’s modesty (molesting her), he can be jailed for two years. A rape conviction can put him behind bars for life or at least 10 years.
The Judges Protection Act 1985 grants judges and former judges immunity from prosecution for actions committed in the discharge of their official duties. The immunity does not apply to cases of molestation or rape as such offences cannot conceivably be a fallout of a judge performing his job, legal experts said.
“(Even) if the offence was committed while he was a sitting judge, he is amenable to all the laws of the country that apply to all ordinary citizens,” said Jaspal Singh, a former Punjab and Haryana High Court judge who now practises as a lawyer in the Supreme Court.
“The allegations are very serious; the law will take its own course,” he added.
Asked if the judges’ panel had judicial sanctity, Singh said: “(Such) charges against a judge of the Supreme Court are a very serious matter. They involve the institution and therefore they (the court) want to verify the charges before taking any action.”
Senior counsel Dushyant Dave said the CJI had done “an extremely good thing” by forming the panel to probe a “brother judge”.
“That this is an in-house committee owes not to any legal requirement but more to propriety,” he said.
He added that the police must not act unless and until the panel asked them to register an FIR, for neither has the accused been identified yet, nor has any of the interns lodged a formal complaint.
“If any third party has lodged a complaint without proper material, it makes no sense,” Dave said.
He added: “It’s a very serious charge; the judge concerned has to face the music.”
Nothing but the truth
By Indira Jaising
A midst the rising din of the demand for death penalty for rapists comes the news that three judges of the Karnataka High Court have been involved in what has come to be described as a 'sex scandal' on the outskirts of Mysore at a place called Roost Resorts.
Our attention is now directed to those who dispense justice rather than those who knock at the doors of justice. In both cases, we are talking about the use and abuse of women — those who are victims of sexual abuse, and those who are used as sexual objects, willingly or unwillingly.
After the reports in local newspapers that three high court judges were found with women at a resort, there was the usual crop of denials. Although the Mysore police were called in to settle a brawl, on being told that the persons in question were judges they said that they heard no evil and saw no evil.
And everyone thought the matter ended there.
Attempts to get the names of the judges or of the women in question drew a blank. The bar association also drew a blank as most people said, "Don't quote me… but…"
On November 30, the Bangalore edition of The Times of India published a front-page story giving the names and photographs of the three judges and confirming that the Intelligence Bureau had done an investigation and come to the conclusion that the incident had indeed occurred. There were still no details of the incident, though it was stated that the report has been given to the chief justice of India.
There were reports on the same day that the Karnataka High Court chief justice had sought the transfer of the three judges to Patna, Jammu and Kashmir and Guwahati. Apparently, the chief justice has agreed to this request and the transfer orders have been issued.
Then came the news that the chief justice of India has set up a committee of inquiry under the 'in-house' procedure consisting of the chief justice of the Andhra Pradesh High Court, the chief justice of the Madras High Court and the chief justice of the Patna High Court.
There were still no details in the press about the actual incident and the entire episode continued to be referred to as a 'sex scandal'.
What is interesting about these reports is not what they reveal, but what they conceal. It is a conspiracy of silence. If the information is now available to the chief justice of India, why is it not being made public? Do we, the public, not have the right to information? Ironically, the morning newspapers brought the news that the Freedom of Information Act has been passed. What are the legitimate limits of the right to freedom of information and the requirement of keeping information a secret? This episode would make an interesting case study.
What exactly is at stake here? There is much that should concern the nation about the incident. This is not a case about the private morality of the judges, be that as it may, but about the abuse of office that they hold. What has not been made known is that the three women in question are women lawyers practising in their courts.
What is at stake here is the pollution of the stream of justice at its very source. There must be countless cases in which these women appeared before these very judges day in and day out of their routine practice. Can one honestly say that in such a situation justice is being done "without fear or favour"? Judges swear on oath of allegiance to "bear true faith" to the Constitution and do justice "without fear or favour". How well have these judges honoured this oath?
What is at stake here is the cynical use of women as sexual commodities. The usual justifications have already begun making the rounds. If the women have not complained, what objection can anyone else have, it is asked. What is lost sight of is the fact that the judges are in a position of dominance vis-à-vis the women, in a position to do favours that pertain to their office.
What is at stake here is the cynical use of public office, the seat of justice, for personal petty gain. It is irrelevant whether the women consented or not. The usual blame game will now begin — blaming the victim rather than the perpetrator; the usual loose talk about the character of the woman in question; the usual attempt to cover up by diverting attention from the actual incident to the motives of those who brought the incident to light.
What is at stake here is the perception of women as sexual commodities by those who are responsible for sitting in judgment over cases brought for and on behalf of women.
The issues at stake here concern one half of Indians. With what faith can Indian women approach the courts demanding the right to equality, the right to be free from sexual harassment or rape and the right to live with dignity, if the persecution of judges who sit in judgment over them is non-negotiable?
In the circumstances, the suggested solution is worse than the offence — to transfer them to Patna, Guwahati and Jammu and Kashmir. Why these particular cities? Are they not an integral part of the country, or are they mere islands within the country that are considered 'punishment postings' where people are sent a la 'crossing Kala Pani' of the old days? To the credit of the Guwahati Bar Association, it protested against the proposed transfer.
The only decent thing to do is for the chief justice of India to disclose full details of the incident so that rumour-mongering comes to an end. This would be in the best interest of the judiciary itself.
As things stand, the rumours are making the rounds that there were more than three judges involved, that the women were professional call girls, many of which are baseless. We, the people, have the right to know. The conspiracy of silence must be broken.
The judges in question must neither be assigned any judicial functions pending an inquiry nor be transferred to sit in judgment over others. Two of the judges are stated to be additional judges. They must not be confirmed. If there is prima facie evidence against the one remaining judge, the chief justice must recommend his impeachment.
It is time for all concerned bar associations, bar councils and other male-dominated bodies of legal professionals to act and ensure that there is no cover-up. There is little point in showing sympathy to women in judgments and in seminar rooms, or in recommending the death penalty for rape if we cannot deal with the men who dispense justice.
There are contempt of court petitions pending in the Karnataka High Court against some of the publications for disclosing details of the incident. Civil society and women's organisations must demand that justice is now done when it comes to the judges themselves.
The law of contempt can offer no solution to the crisis of credibility in the judiciary that this incident has thrown up. One positive aspect of the incident is that it is only after the chief justice of the high court issued a public notice inviting information that he received 20 representations, which led to the discovery of the truth.
Let the truth now be made public.
Earlier, a woman lawyer had written a blog in which she charged a former Supreme Court judge of sexually harassing her, while she interned with him in 2012. The woman lawyer who completed her law degree from National University of Jurdicial Sciences, Kolkata wrote is her blog, "In Delhi at that time, interning during the winter vacations of my final year in the University, I dodged police barricades and fatigue to go to the assistance of a highly reputed, recently retired Supreme Court judge whom I was working under during my penultimate semester. For my supposed diligence, I was rewarded with sexual assault (not physically injurious, but nevertheless violating) from a man old enough to be my grandfather."
She had also claimed that at least three other girls have also faced harassment by the same judge. The girl said that she had refrained from disclosing the details initially due to the high position that the judge held.
The latest allegations were made on a Facebook post on November 11 and reported by a law website, Legally India, on Thursday.
The same website had given the link to the first intern’s blog, describing her ordeal. The Supreme Court has appointed a three-judge panel to inquiry into her allegations and the victim has been asked to record her statement on November 18.
But unlike the first instance, the website this time has not given the link to the Facebook post or identified the woman. When contacted Kian Ganz, who reported both the incidents, told HT: “I got to know about the second intern’s experience with the judge through the Facebook post. However, I wasn’t able to confirm if she wanted to go public.”
The second victim, too, was an intern with the same judge, the website said. HT, however, could not confirm the claims or the allegations independently. The two women can’t be identified for legal reasons.
The excerpts uploaded on Legally India on Thursday quote the second intern as saying she was “at the receiving end of unsolicited sexual advance more than once”. Both the interns knew each other, the report claimed.
“…. we kept attributing all the signs of leeriness to our hypersensitivity... We discussed innocuously said off-colour remarks and dismissed their creepiness because we really respected him [the judge], and the possibility seemed at odds with everything we knew about him, his ideas about feminism, patriarchy, social justice...,” the website quoted from the second intern’s post.
The first intern had alleged that the judge had misbehaved with other women interns as well.
The second intern said as much. “In this case, we spoke to other women... and found out that there was a history to such behaviour.”
“We also alerted some female senior faculty to the incident so that they would ensure that no female student was assigned work with him without being told to be on her guard.”
The website further quotes her as saying “he promised, incidentally, that he would never misbehave with another lady. Maybe it’s naiveté to believe him. Maybe it’s just youthful optimism. Being brave is tougher than it appears on the face of it, no?”
The post then goes on say that the judge “lost his RA’s [research assistants] and got a dressing down from a 23-year-old which should have come from his father.
“Why deprive girls from the chance to work with an illustrious mind because the mind is a little sick? A guy who gets the task would get a savvy CV and a better job opp (opportunity). We didn’t want girls to be left at a disadvantage,” the post, as uploaded on Legally India, read.