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In the recent past, two former judges of Supreme Court have been accused of having sexually harassed women. Photo: Mint
In the recent past, two former judges of Supreme Court have been accused of having sexually harassed women. Photo: Mint

SC lays down rules to deal with judges’ sexual harassment cases

If found guilty, judges may have their judicial work taken away and face removal proceedings

New Delhi: Judges found guilty of sexual harassment may have their judicial work taken away and face removal proceedings, the Supreme Court ruled on Thursday, as it affirmed a detailed mechanism laid down in an earlier decision for dealing with such complaints.

The apex court’s verdict came on a day it acted against a sitting judge of the Madhya Pradesh high court, who is facing charges of sexual harassment from a former junior judge—a woman—in the same state.

Signalling zero-tolerance for such crimes, the apex court said in an 80-page verdict that when allegations have substance for removal of a judge, the Chief Justice of India (CJI) will advise the concerned judge “to resign or to seek voluntary retirement" and no further judicial work will be allocated to him if he disregards the advice. Simultaneously, where the concerned judge is “not abiding by the advice of the Chief Justice of India", the CJI shall intimate the President and the Prime Minister of the findings of the “three-member Committee", warranting the launch of proceedings for removal of the concerned judge.

The ruling, which was referring to a committee of three judges that will be set up by the CJI, brings much-needed clarity on the question of how sexual harassment complaints should be dealt with in the judicial service.

In the recent past, two former judges of Supreme Court have been accused of having sexually harassed women. While in-house proceedings were launched in the case of one, the other matter is being heard by the Delhi high court.

The ruling of the apex court arises from a sexual harassment allegation made by a former additional district and sessions judge of a Gwalior court against a sitting judge of the Madhya Pradesh high court.

The Supreme Court’s clarification was sought after the chief justice of the Madhya Pradesh high court set up a two-judge committee to inquire into the allegations. The apex court, however, found that the move “introduced serious infirmities in the investigative process".

In its ruling, the apex court directed that the sitting judge of the high court be divested of his administrative and supervisory roles and control over witnesses. The court also ruled that the chief justice of the Madhya Pradesh high court should not be associated with the internal proceedings because he had “assumed a firm position" over certain facts in the case.

The judgement lays down the process to be followed when complaints are received against any sitting judge. The nature of complaints can vary and sexual harassment is only a particular kind of complaint that can be taken up in the manner laid down.

In a bid to introduce transparency, the verdict, authored by justice Jagdish Khehar, directed the registry of the Supreme Court to place the “in-house procedure" on the official website of the court. Because of “the importance of the “in-house procedure", it is essential to bring it into the public domain, the court said.

Despite the fact that the court- appointed committee can probe an allegation of sexual harassment, removal of a judge can only take place through impeachment proceedings—a long-drawn process that needs to be passed by a two-third majority of Parliament.

“Only Parliament can initiate impeachment proceedings. This is the flipside of independence of judiciary, judges can abuse their office. There’s a balancing question. In-house proceedings are ineffective, it’s a rule of law problem. If a citizen is investigated by the police on filing an FIR, a judge also should be subject to the same process. The outcome (in this case) may look like a win for the petitioner, but it still remains unequal and arbitrary. There are two different mechanisms for the same crime," said Rahul Singh, assistant professor at the National Law School of India University, Bengaluru.

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