A day after it was reported that a Supreme Court staffer alleged that she was sexually harassed twice by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi last year, the collective, Women in Criminal Law Association (WCLA) has released a statement demanding a fair inquiry into the allegations and has questioned the manner in which the complaint was dealt with. The WCLA is a collaborative group for women in criminal litigation.
The statement questions as to how the CJI who is accused of sexual harassment was part of the bench conducting the ‘special hearing’ after four media outlets published the charges made against the CJI.
“Ostensibly on a “Mention” being made by the Solicitor General, a Special Court or Bench comprising of the Chief Justice himself and Justices Arun Mishra and Sanjeev Khanna was constituted. The Ld. Attorney General and Solicitor General were also present in Court. The subject of the day, “to deal with a matter of great public importance touching upon the independence of the judiciary.” Even before the allegations properly came to light, the stated purpose of the Court sitting sought to change the conversation,” the statement reads.
The statement has demanded that the complaint should be considered as per the procedure and follow the principles of fairness and justice, including the fundamental right to equality before the law.
“The said procedure must be in accordance with the "In House Procedure" applicable to the Judges of the Supreme Court and the letter and spirit of the POSH Act, the Supreme Court Sexual Harassment Regulations, 2013 & service rules if applicable. The Complainant ought to have the utmost opportunity to present her case, as must the Respondent to present his defence,” the statement says.
“It is our opinion that, due to the immense disparity in power and position, the Hon’ble Chief Justice of India cannot continue to hold office during the inquiry. Needless to say, the inquiry must take place at the earliest and with unimpeachable and transparent process in order to preserve the dignity of our Apex Court. To this end, the Complainant must be protected from all coercive action and online harassment during the pendency of the inquiry,” the statement adds.
The WCLA has stated that the proceedings of the Supreme Court’s special hearing, which were live-tweeted, “betray supposition” that the complaint is motivated and thus the three-judge bench, Secretary-General, the Attorney General and Solicitor General be excluded to ensure neutrality and fairness.
“Furthermore, the record of proceedings or “Order” of the day (which does not reflect the presence or submissions of the Chief Justice) ought to be corrected to reflect the true constitution and purpose of the bench,” the statement adds.
The WCLA has also distanced itself from the statement of the Bar Council of India which had condemned the sexual harassment allegations against CJI Ranjan Gogoi and termed the allegations false.
“It is stated that the said stance is not echoed by several members of the legal community and the Bar, including but not limited to those that endorse this statement,” the WCLA statement said.
What the charges are
A woman who has previously worked as junior court assistant at the Supreme Court of India, wrote to 22 judges of the court on Friday, alleging sexual harassment by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi.
In an affidavit, she detailed the alleged harassment at the residence office of Gogoi on October 10 and 11, 2018, and the repercussions that followed when she refused his advances. The CJI has denied these allegations and said they were 'unbelievable' He also said that the woman in question had worked in the Supreme Court for just less than two months and accused her of having a 'criminal background'. He has alleged it was a plot to deactivate the office of the CJI.