The Supreme Court Wednesday issued notice on a law graduate’s plea to put in place a permanent mechanism to attend to the complaints of sexual harassment by both sitting and former judges at all levels of judiciary, including the apex court.
The notice, returnable by Feb 14, has been issued to the centre, the secretary general of the Supreme Court, Justice (Retd.) Swatanter Kumar, and Attorney General G.E. Vahanvati.
An apex court bench headed by Chief Justice P. Sathasivam, while issuing the notice, made it clear that “at this moment we are not expressing any opinion on averments or allegations by the law graduate”.
In view of the importance of the issue to evolve a permanent mechanism to address the complaints of sexual harassments by the judges at all level, the court said it appointed eminent counsel Fali Nariman and K.K. Venugopal as amicus curiae to assist the court.
The court order came on a petition of a former law intern who alleged sexual harassment by then Supreme Court judge Swatanter Kumar.
At the outset of the hearing, Chief Justice Sathasivam asked: “What is the date of alleged incident?” When told that it relates to May 28, 2011, he asked why did she take so long to report the matter.
The then law intern had written to Chief Justice Sathasivam complaining about the alleged sexual harassment, the court said while noting that the intern had informed her parents and professors about the incident but did not inform the court.
“Being a law graduate”, why did she wait for so long, Chief Justice Sathasivam asked. “Our apprehension is that there are so many retired judges and someone levels charges after 20 years when the retired judge is 85 years old.”
At this senior counsel Harish Salve said there is no permanent mechanism to attend to complaints of sexual harassment against judges and the existing grievance redressal committee was “inappropriate” to entertain complaints against judges.
Salve said let there be a permanent mechanism to look into the complaints of sexual misconduct with a time frame.
The law intern from Kolkata-based National University of Juridical Sciences has alleged sexual harassment against former apex court judge Swatanter Kumar. Justice Kumar at present heads the National Green Tribunal.
Besides seeking inquiry into her complaint, the intern in her petition also sought direction for setting up a permanent mechanism to inquire into the complaints of sexual harassment against all the judicial officers sitting or retired, whether holding office or not.
She said such a permanent mechanism is contemplated in Vishaka direction issued by the apex court to take cognizance of sexual harassment at work place.