Two advocates Monday wrote to the Bar Council of India criticising it for its support to CJI Ranjan Gogoi and called Saturday’s hearing a ‘travesty of justice’. The CJI had Saturday used his administrative powers to hear a sexual harassment allegation made against him by a former junior court assistant and rejected the allegation as one intended to malign the judiciary.
ThePrint asks: Is Supreme Court handling sexual harassment allegation against CJI Ranjan Gogoi correctly?
Complainant asked for committee of retired judges to look into charges, but what CJI did was bizarre
Senior advocate, Supreme Court
The sexual harassment charge against CJI Gogoi is a very serious one and it happens to be backed up by a lot of documented evidence – particularly the video with the SHO of the police station as mentioned in the affidavit.
All of this seems to substantiate her claims, at least prima facie.
However, all these allegations need thorough independent checking and a committee needs to be constituted for the same. This is what the complainant asked for as well – that a committee of retired judges be constituted for this case.
Instead, what the CJI did was not only highly irregular, but also very bizarre. First, the CJI should not be constituting a bench in a manner concerning him, and then for him to preside over it is appalling. Finally, the order didn’t even mention his name.
For the CJI to be clearly taking the Solicitor General and the Attorney-General’s help in his defence, and not even ensuring the complainant is represented meant that the hearing was reduced to him peddling one-sided allegations against the woman. This was highly shocking and unfortunate.
The only way to redeem the situation now would be to constitute a committee of retired, independent and credible judges to look into the complainant’s allegations.
Action against the woman is appropriate because the allegations seem politically motivated
Milan Deep Singh
Managing partner, Ace Law Offices
This seems like an entirely politically-motivated action driven solely to malign the Chief Justice of India. The allegations made against CJI Ranjan Gogoi seem completely made up and only done in order to serve an ulterior motive.
The CJI hired the woman in question to assist him in cases, not for any personal benefit. Moreover, the security protocol at the CJI’s office is not like any ordinary security system, with guards and the CJI’s entire staff as well as his secretary present throughout the working hours. The CJI isn’t sitting alone in his chamber at any point. The disciplinary action taken against the woman seems perfectly appropriate.
I believe the proceedings conducted by the CJI after the allegations were made public were also completely professional. Even if he had done nothing, people would still have raised objections.
The bench comprised two other judges. Moreover, attorney general K.K. Venugopal as well as Solicitor General Tushar Mehta were making similar points. It is one thing to suggest that the CJI can influence fellow judges, but he surely can’t influence the additional general and the solicitor general.
I believe this entire episode has been whipped up for publicity purposes and there are greater motivations at play. Nothing else explains it.
Whether appointments or sexual harassment allegations, Supreme Court remains a savarna old boys club
Alok Prasanna Kumar
Senior Resident Fellow, Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy
The Supreme Court has so far badly handled the sexual harassment allegations against CJI Ranjan Gogoi. The secretary general’s response to the court makes two factually incorrect statements, refuses to make a factual response to the allegations of victimisation and proceeds to hurl further, unjustified, accusations against the complainant. Nothing about this response inspires confidence in the ability of the Supreme Court to handle any sexual harassment allegation, let alone one made against the CJI.
Equally, the farcical ‘hearing’ Saturday only shows that certain judges and leading members of the Bar are happy to circle wagons and protect their own.
Save for a few senior advocates and junior lawyers, there has been a naked attempt by the CJI and some sections of the Bar to intimidate and defame the complainant into withdrawing her allegations.
This is not a one-off incident. Previous allegations against retired judges and senior advocates have been buried with nary a consequence against the alleged perpetrators.
Whether it comes to appointments or sexual harassment allegations, it seems that the SC is still a savarna old boys club.
Proper response would have been for the Chief Justice to offer to face an inquiry
Senior advocate and former Additional Solicitor General
The matter has been completely mishandled. The Chief Justice was, of course, fully entitled to assert his innocence, but this ought to have been done by him personally either by addressing the Bar or the media or by issuing a personal communiqué. However, the constitution of a bench presided over by the Chief Justice himself was contrary to all canons of judicial procedure.
Even if the Chief Justice had decided to do this as an emotional reaction (after all, judges are human, and would be as shaken as anyone else by something like this), the judges whom he chose to sit on the Bench along with himself could have cautioned him.
It is even more distressing that the two top law officers and the president of the Bar did not offer dispassionate legal counsel. The collective expression of outrage by the bench and Bar only resulted in the condemnation of the accuser in her absence, which was contrary to justice and fairness. The proper response, which would have enhanced the image of the judiciary in the eyes of the public, would have been for the Chief Justice to offer to face an inquiry by any institutional mechanism which his judicial peers would devise.
Powerful forces want CJI Gogoi to step down because he is set to hear important cases
Managing partner, GaMa Legal, Advocates & Solicitors
An important development has come up in the case and it must not be ignored. Utsav Bains, a lawyer, has said he was offered Rs 1.5 crore to frame CJI Ranjan Gogoi in a sexual harassment case, and is even willing to file an official affidavit stating this.
In my opinion, the CJI is clearly being framed. There are powerful forces behind this complaint of sexual harassment, and these forces want CJI Gogoi to step down. Or worse, they may even be looking forward to his impeachment.
Let’s not forget, the CJI holds a very important position and has to hear some very important cases before the completion of his tenure. For instance, Rahul Gandhi’s hearing today on his “chowkidar chor hai” remark. Similarly, the Ayodhya case, Rafale deal and several other important cases are yet to be heard. There are clearly strictures in the system who want to influence the judiciary.
Everyone is well aware of CJI Gogoi’s integrity and honest track record. He would never stoop down to commit such a low act.
The proceedings on Saturday were also conducted in a very fair manner as there was no strict order or injunction issued at the end of it. They have only requested the media to use their sensibilities; a media trial is the last thing needed in this case.
Judicial record of proceedings is inaccurate and doesn’t even mention CJI Gogoi’s presence
The allegations of sexual harassment and victimisation, made on affidavit and backed by documents and audio-video recordings, by a former Supreme Court employee against CJI Ranjan Gogoi are neither trite nor vague, and therefore cannot be dismissed at the outset.
Complaints against sitting judges can be dealt with through the “In-house procedure,” however this does not contemplate a situation where misconduct by the CJI himself is alleged. As per the in-house procedure, upon receiving an allegation against any sitting judge, the CJI will first examine the complaint and if prima facie a case is made out, s/he will form a committee. Needless to say, the CJI cannot sit as a judge in his own cause. It may be in the fitness of things for Justice Gogoi to abstain from work so that the Acting CJI could then form a view on the complaint. Alternatively, considering the request of the complainant, a committee of retired Supreme Court judges may be most suitable for inquiring into the matter.
The hearing of Saturday cast the complaint as an attack on judicial independence. The judicial record of the proceedings is inaccurate as it does not reflect the presence of the CJI and instead sounds an ominous cautionary note to the media.
In fact, judicial independence and preserving the dignity of the office of the CJI requires that, now more than ever, justice is scrupulously seen to be done and the playing field between two citizens – one a former SC employee and the other the sitting CJI – is levelled. Whichever way the inquiry goes, how the puisne justices of the Supreme Court handles the complaint from here on has indeed become a matter of great public importance.
By Fatima Khan, journalist at ThePrint.