Ranjan Gogoi – Ex-Chief Justice Of India Accused in Sexual Harassment Case – Detailed View by Legal Thirst Campus Ambassador.
In the Supreme Court of India
Sexual Harassment and The Ex. CJI Ranjan Gogoi
In Re: Matter of Great Public Importance touching upon the Independence of Judiciary
Case No.- Suo Moto WP (C) 1/2019
Lawyers involved- Attorney General K.K. Venugopal and Attorney Solicitor General Tushar Mehta
Judges/Bench- Justices Arun Mishra, R. F. Nariman, and Deepak Gupta
Committee- Justices S. A. Bobde, N. V. Ramana, and Indira Banerjee
The Indian Judiciary faced an unprecedented problem when a former junior court assistant alleged sexual harassment by the Former Chief Justice of India, Ranjan Gogoi. After the publication of the affidavit of the complainant in media, an urgent hearing was convened in the court of the CJI, comprising of the Chief Justice and Justices Arun Mishra and Sanjiv Khanna.
The court will determine if the sexual harassment allegations against the Chief Justice of India are fabricated.
The notice of registry stated that it was a matter of “great public importance touching upon the independence of the judiciary.”
By taking suo moto cognizance of the matter, the Supreme Court bench of Justices Arun Mishra, R. F. Nariman, and Deepak Gupta was constituted. Further, the CJI constituted an in-house committee consisting of Justices S.A. Bobde, N.V. Ramana, and Indira Banerjee to look into the matter.
The complainant protested against this bench due to the close relations between the CJI and Justice Ramana. The latter then recused himself from the committee saying that he did not want any suspicion in the matter regarding the standards of judicial propriety and wisdom that the Supreme Court holds as an institution.
The complainant accused the in-house committee of being biased and said that she would not participate in the proceedings of the committee any further as she was not even allowed to have her lawyer present. The committee proceeded ex parte and gave a cleared the CJI after careful “examination” of the allegations.
A 3 Judge Bench of the Supreme Court will examine the claims made by Advocate Utsav Bains. He claims that the allegations made by a former Junior Officer of the Court alleging sexual harassment by the Chief Justice of India are fabricated and motivated by a larger conspiracy to undermine the independence of the judiciary by corporate persons and corrupt political leaders.
On 19 April 2019, a former junior Court Officer alleged that she was sexually harassed by the Chief Justice of India, Ranjan Gogoi. She submitted documents substantiating her claims and wrote a letter to 22 Supreme Court Justices.
On 20 April, the Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi called a special hearing. He denied the allegations. Justices Arun Mishra and Sanjiv Khanna sat with him on the Bench. No judicial orders were passed and the Chief Justice stepped aside.
On 23 April, a Bench comprising Justice Arun Mishra, Rohinton Nariman, and Deepak Gupta began hearing the matter. They issued notice to the lawyer Utsav Bains to appear in-person. On 24 April, Mr. Bains appeared in-person before the Court and submitted an affidavit in a sealed cover.
On 25 April, the Bench directed retired Justice A.K. Patnaik to conduct an inquiry into the alleged conspiracy. He will be assisted by the Director of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), the Chief of the Intelligence Bureau (IB), and the Delhi Police Commissioner. Justice A.K. Patnaik will submit a report in a sealed cover to the Bench, documenting his findings.
- Do the sexual harassment allegations infringe upon the independence of the judiciary?
- Did this hearing prejudice the panel conducting the in-house inquiry into the sexual harassment allegations?
The complainant protested against this bench due to the close relations between the CJI and Justice Ramana. The latter then recused himself from the committee saying that he did not want any suspicion in the matter regarding the standards of judicial propriety and wisdom that the Supreme Court holds as an institution. The complainant accused the in-house committee of being biased and said that she would not participate in the proceedings of the committee any further as she was not even allowed to have her lawyer present. The committee proceeded ex parte and gave a cleared the CJI after careful “examination” of the allegations.
On 30 April, the complainant withdrew from the in-house inquiry. She cited various reasons, including:
- Complainant not allowed the presence of her lawyer during proceedings
- No video/audio recordings allowed during proceedings
- Complainant not informed about the Committee’s procedure
The committee and the Supreme Court have faced severe criticism as a result of its order and the handling of the allegations in general. The criticism was not based on the allegations but the fact that the accused himself, “very graciously” became a part of the bench that examined the matter which is a clear violation of the Principle of Natural Justice “Nemo judex in causa sua” which translates to “one should not be a judge in his own cause.” Further, the authority of the Supreme Court was questioned on several occasions, viz., when the complainant was not allowed a lawyer when the 3 judge bench of the Supreme Court continued with the proceedings even though the complainant had accused the bench of being discriminatory against her and had, therefore, denied being a part of any such proceedings.
There may be further arguments that the committee to look into the matter could have consisted of retired Supreme Court judges, but we cannot fail to acknowledge the vacuum in law here. The law does not provide for any provision delegating authority to constitute such a committee in the case of sexual harassment allegations against the Chief Justice of India, as compared to other cases where it is the Chief Justice who has the power to constitute committees.
This panel eventually concluded that there was no substance in the sexual harassment allegations leveled by the staffer after four days of sitting.
A short statement released by the Supreme Court reads, “The in-house committee has found no substance in the allegations contained in the complaint dated 19.4.2019 of a former employee of the Supreme Court of India. Please take note that in case of Indira Jaising versus Supreme Court of India and Another 5 SSC 494, it has been held that the report of a committee constituted as part of the in-house procedure is not liable to be made public.”
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