Mechanism to probe sexual harassment allegations against judges: Supreme Court to hear eight-year old petition seeking transparency

The court allowed senior advocate, Indira Jaising, to submit materials on the developments since 2014 in the mechanism of probing complaints of sexual harassment against sitting and retired judges.

ON August 30, a Supreme Court bench comprising Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul, A.S. Oka and Vikram Nath, in the case of X versus Secretary General, Supreme Court of India & Ors., filed in 2014, directed the Secretary General of the Supreme Court to put on record the mechanism followed by the court in dealing with complaints of sexual harassment against the sitting and retired judges.

The bench also granted liberty to senior advocate, Indira Jaising, who was appearing for the petitioner, to bring on record how processes have evolved in courts since 2014 while dealing with cases of sexual harassment.

The bench was hearing a petition filed in 2014 by a former law intern at the Supreme Court who accused Justice Swatanter Kumar of sexually harassing her in 2011. In 2013, the petitioner swore an affidavit detailing the sexual harassment she was subjected to by Justice Kumar. The same was sent to the then Chief Justice of India. However, on December 12, 2013, a full court of the Supreme Court passed a resolution that it would no longer entertain complaints of sexual harassment against the retired judge. The Secretary-General of the court accordingly returned the affidavit filed by the victim-petitioner.

Aggrieved with the refusal to accept her affidavit, the victim had approached the Supreme Court praying inter-alia to quash the full court resolution, to constitute a committee headed by a woman with an external member to inquire into the complaint filed by her, and to issue a direction for a permanent mechanism be set up to enquire into the complaints of sexual harassment against all judicial officers, sitting or retired judges, whether while holding office or not.

On January 15, 2014, the Supreme Court issued notice only on the prayer seeking a permanent mechanism to enquire into the complaints of sexual harassment against all judicial officers, sitting or retired judges, whether while holding office or not. On account of the significance of the issue and for devising a permanent mechanism, the court sought the assistance of senior members of the bar, Fali S. Nariman and the late P.P. Rao, to act as Amici Curiae, as well as the then Attorney General, the late Goolam E. Vahanvati, and the then Solicitor General, Mohan Parasaran, to assist the court. But the case did not make any progress after that.

The matter was heard on Tuesday after eight years. Representing the petitioner, Jaising requested the bench to delete Justice Kumar and Union of India from among the respondents as no claim was sought against them, more so when the court in 2014 issued notice only on the prayer of a mechanism to deal with complaints of sexual harassment. Jaising added that the Secretary General of the Supreme Court is yet to file a response to the petition. She added that much water has flown under the bridge since 2014, and hence she would like to put on record some instances of sexual harassment complaints dealt with by the courts since then.

The Solicitor General, Tushar Mehta, represented the Supreme Court’s Secretary General.

The bench permitted Jaising to file additional documents within four weeks, and thereafter the Secretary General has been asked to place the court’s stand on record within four weeks.

The matter will now be heard on November 15.