To Protect Its Own, The Supreme Court Sets A Dangerous Precedent

Amnesty International India
Bangalore / New Delhi: 9 May 2019 5:24 pm

The very Supreme Court of India that laid down the Vishakha guidelines to address sexual harassment at the workplace, has failed to uphold basic due process guarantees available to complainants, said Amnesty India.

“Over the last few days, there have been countrywide protests by women activists and lawyers against the clean chit provided to the Chief Justice of India without following basic procedure to guarantee justice. An independent and impartial inquiry committee is a pre-requisite for arriving at a fair decision. The Supreme Court has set a dangerous precedent by circumventing basic legal safeguards, in what appears to be a bid to protect its own” said Asmita Basu, Programmes Director, Amnesty India.

On 19 April 2019, a woman who worked as junior court assistant at the Supreme Court of India wrote to 22 judges of the court alleging sexual harassment at the hands of the Chief Justice of India (CJI), Ranjan Gogoi. The letter alleged that the incident took place at his residence office on October 10 and 11, 2018.

Instead of addressing the allegations, the Chief Justice of India convened a special bench to look into concerns relating to the ‘independence of the judiciary’.  According to media reports, he claimed that the victim had an “ongoing criminal investigation” against her and that her allegations were part of a bigger plot to attack the independence of the judiciary.

Subsequently, the complaint was referred to an in-house committee constituted by Justice SA Bobde,  Justice Indira Banjeree and Justice Indu Malhotra. There was no external member on this committee, as mandated under the 2013 law on sexual harassment at workplace. The victim’s requests to have her lawyer present and for information on the procedure to be followed was denied leading her to withdraw from the proceedings. However, the proceedings continued ex parte and a clean chit was given to the Chief Justice of India within days of her withdrawal.  The committee also denied her request for a copy of their report.

“The law on sexual harassment clearly mandates that employers must do all they can to assist complainants of sexual harassment. In denying her requests, the Supreme Court failed discharge this essential duty.” said Asmita Basu. “This precedent set by the highest court in the country is bound to have an adverse impact on all cases of sexual harassment cases. It is a significant setback to the hard-won gains made by the women’s movement to strengthen laws on addressing violence against women.”

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