As allegations of “unwelcome behaviour” against retired Supreme Court judges – two have surfaced so far – are denting the institution’s moral authority, an informal in-house mechanism is required to determine the veracity of such allegations and a single yardstick should be applied for any probes into the charges, eminent lawyers say.
They have also objected to the allegations being dealt with in an “extra legal fashion” and urged the media to be more circumspect in its reportage of the issue.
“I am extremely disturbed about the irreparable damage that these allegations are making to the institution. If we continue to deal with such allegations in extra legal fashion and the media continues to be oblivious to the most fundamental constitutional principles of the right to silence and presumption of innocence, then the Supreme Court will never be able to command the moral authority which is essential for democracy. The media should be circumspect and give adequate time to the judicial process to play itself out,” well-known criminal lawyer KTS Tulsi told a news agency.
Favouring “an in-house informal mechanism to determine the veracity of each of such allegations,” Tulsi said that “the very nature of the responsibility of a judge involves displeasing one party or the other in each case. So all judges are vulnerable to motivated attacks”.
With the allegations against Justice AK Ganguly, which led to his stepping down as the West Bengal rights body chief, continuing to linger in public memory, the apex court is once again under the scanner with an inquiry being sought into similar allegations against another former judge by a law graduate.
Not holding a brief for the second judge – who has since filed a defamation case against three media organisations in the Delhi High Court – the eminent lawyers also wondered why the victims are not taking recourse to the remedies available under the criminal law by filing FIRs and are directly approaching the chief justice of India, seeking to invoke his powers on the administrative side.
While Biggies in the legal fraternity, including Indira Jaisinh and Kamini Jaiswal, have been clamouring for the apex court to act on the new complaint of the former law intern – also from Kolkata’s National University of Juridical Sciences – that she was subjected to unwelcome sexual advances by the former judge, others are questioning why the allegations are being made after a prolonged lapse of time – and that too when the judge had retired.
The second judge under fire has denied the allegation. The law intern had written in November 2013 to Chief Justice P Sathasivam and had sought action against the judge whom she accused of inappropriate behaviour in 2011 when she was interning under him. Now, she has filed a petition seeking action against the judge.
Activist lawyer Prashant Bhushan, as also Kamini Jaiswal, have sought action against the second judge, contending that “there could not be two yardsticks – one in respect of the allegations against Justice AK Ganguly and other in the instant case”. In Ganguly’s case, based on a newspaper report, Chief Justice Sathasivan had constituted a three-judge probe panel to inquire into the allegations.
“There can’t be two standards in dealing with complaints of sexual harassment,” Bhushan said, adding that a probe into the new allegations should be conducted in a similar fashion.
However, distinguished lawyer PP Rao said that the law should take its own course.
“It is good that the full court, on the administrative side, has decided not to entertain complaints against retired judges,” Rao told a news agency, adding: “They (the law interns) should file complaints with the police and go according to the law. Why are the allegations being made after a lapse of so much of time, and that too after the judges have retired? There is a prima facie doubt about the bona fides of these complaints.”
Wondering why an FIR has not been filed so far by the first law intern, Rao said: “If the allegations are true, the law will certainly take care of it. If there is any lapse on the part of the police, the magistrate can always direct the police to fairly investigate into the complaint.”
Not seeing delay as a big issue, former judge of the Rajasthan and Gujarat high courts MR Calla said: “It depends on the facts of each case. It has to be explained properly to the satisfaction of the court.”
What is needed, said Justice Calla, now a senior counsel practising in the apex court, is “regulations on the conduct of judges outside the court precincts”.
“It is tarnishing the image of the Supreme Court and the judiciary as an institution. There should be regulations on the conduct of judges outside the court precincts. We did urge the court by way of a petition to frame the regulations but it did not accept our plea and dismissed it,” Calla noted.