Supreme Court to probe sexual harassment complaint against former judge

The Supreme Court suo motu decided Tuesday to launch an inquiry into the sexual harassment allegations against one of its retired judges and formed a three-judge panel to ascertain the veracity of the accusation made by a young lawyer.

The lawyer, in a blog she wrote on November 6 for the Journal of Indian Law and Society, and later in an interview to web site Legally India, had alleged that she was sexually harassed in December by a Supreme Court judge with whom she was interning. The woman, who graduated from Kolkata's National University of Juridical Sciences this year, did not name the judge but said he "retired recently".

"We are anxious to see if the statements she has made are correct. Being the head of the institution, I consulted my fellow judges during lunch time and have set up a three-member committee of judges to go into these issues," Chief Justice P Sathasivam told Attorney General G E Vahanvati.

Vahanvati had moved the court with a petition that sought an in-depth inquiry into the accusations levelled by the woman and her subsequent statements on the website and in The Times of India. He emphasised that a complaint of sexual harassment must be taken seriously. The AG also requested the apex court to take some steps so that the damning speculations are put to rest.

The CJI told the AG that the issue had been lingering in his mind from 10.30 in the morning when lawyer M L Sharma mentioned the matter and sought the court's indulgence.

"We have formed a committee of Justices R M Lodha, H L Dattu and Ranjana Desai to go into these aspects and prepare a report. We will take action on the basis of the report. The committee starts working from today in the evening and they are going to issue notices to all the persons concerned," said Sathasivam.

The CJI pointed out that the veracity of the allegations required to be ascertained first and that records relating to interns or advocates associated with judges and their entry to court or the chambers of judges will also be examined.

"In cases of sexual harassment, we cannot take it lightly. We are taking steps," the CJI said, noting that guidelines had been framed and notified in the gazette to deal with issues of sexual harassment in the apex court.

Sathasivam, however, lamented that the the sexual harassment committee in the SC could not be made functional so far since the Supreme Court Bar Association and Law Clerks Association were yet to nominate their members to the committee. Meanwhile, the bench kept the AG's petition pending.

In her post, the young lawyer who presently works at the NGO 'Natural Justice, Lawyers for Communities and the Environment,' had written about how she was trying to come to terms with her experience of December 24, 2012, when she was allegedly assaulted.

"In Delhi at that time, interning during the winter vacations of my final year in university, I dodged police barricades and fatigue to go to the assistance of a highly reputed, recently retired Supreme Court judge whom I was working under during my penultimate semester. For my supposed diligence, I was rewarded with sexual assault (not physically injurious, but nevertheless violating) from a man old enough to be my grandfather..." she wrote.

Detailing her reasons for not making public the name of the judge or lodging a formal complaint, she wrote: "I bore, and still bear, no real ill-will towards the man, and had no desire to put his life's work and reputation in question. On the other hand, I felt I had a responsibility to ensure that other young girls were not put in a similar situation. But I have been unable to find a solution that allows that. Despite the heated public debates, despite a vast army of feminist vigilantes, despite new criminal laws and sexual harassment laws, I have not found closure."

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