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Association condemns ‘silencing’ in harassment case against CJI

WCLA calls it a complete ‘travesty of procedural and substantive justice’

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 the police detentions of peaceful protesters and even the Bar Council of India and other bar associations issuing diktats against any criticism.

The association said what followed after the junior court assistant made a complaint of sexual harassment against the CJI “ has been a complete travesty of procedural and substantive justice”.

Denounced panel report

Another rights organisation, People 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”,” PUCL said in a press statement.

It said that the decision not to make public the report of the in-house committee only compounds in the public eye, the apprehension that the entire judicial system in the highest court in the country did not act in a fair and judicious manner in handling the complaint of the woman employee.

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,” the association stated 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.

The association also demanded that the report exonerating the CJI must be made public after appropriate redaction to withhold identification of persons, so that the public can debate the correctness and soundness of the reasoning for the exoneration to the CJI.

It claimed that the in-house three-judge committee has not provided any justification for not supplying a copy of the same to the complainant, which is a basic tent 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.

Questions move

The association also questioned why the committee went ahead with the proceeding after the complainant withdrew participating from the committee 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 remarked asking what factual inquiry has been conducted in terms of the affidavit filed by the complainant.

Pointing out that legal representation is a constitutionally protected right, the association has sought answers from the top court as to why the women complainant was denied legal representation.

It remarked that women complainants are being set to impossible standards with their motives questioned whatever the manner of raising a complaint.

It said that the Bar Council has called for lawyers to “drop this episode from our minds” since those “whose livelihood is attached to it” will “never disrespect the Supreme Court.”

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 association said.

“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 added.

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 and 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.

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