CJI Sexual Harassment allegations: Complainant withdraws from the 3-Judge Inquiry Panel [Read Press Note]

CJI Sexual Harassment allegations: Complainant withdraws from the 3-Judge Inquiry Panel [Read Press Note]

Shruti Mahajan

The former Supreme Court staffer who had levelled allegations of sexual harassment against the Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi has withdrawn from the three Judge in-house committee probing allegations.

The complainant has issued a statement stating that she no longer will participate in the hearings conducted by the panel comprising Justices SA Bobde, Indu Malhotra, and Indira Banerjee. She has cited reasons such as no video recording, and not being allowed a lawyer, among other things, as reasons for the same. Her press release states,

1. I have not been allowed to have the presence of my lawyer/support person despite my impaired
hearing, nervousness and fear
2. There being no video or audio recording of the Committee proceedings
3. I have not been supplied even a copy of my statement as recorded on 26th and 29th April 2019
4. I was not informed about the procedure this committee is following.

Here are some other allegations the Complainant makes in her Press Release

The complainant also adds that while she had requested for an external committee to look into the allegations in the letter written to all the Supreme Court Judges, an in-house panel was constituted. Despite having reservations about the fair dealing of her complaint by a panel of Judges junior to CJI Gogoi, she joined the inquiry.

“I did not think that any in house body or the committee constituted under the Prevention of Sexual Harassment Act, would be able to fairly deal with my complaint, given the fact that the person against whom I had made the complaint was the Chief Justice of India.”

The statement issued by the complainant also states that upon inquiring the procedure the panel will be adopting in the hearings, she was informed that this was an informal proceeding and she was not allowed her lawyer/support person with her during the hearings. In addition to this, her request of video recording the proceedings was also declined and she was instructed not to disclose details of the proceedings to the media or even to her lawyer, her statement details.

Complainant adds that she wrote to the members of the panel reiterating her request for the procedure under the  Prevention of Sexual Harassment of Women at the Workplace Act to be followed and for her to be allowed the company of her lawyer during the proceedings. However, in the next hearing too, she was required to be present by herself without her Counsel or support person. She adds,

“In the hearing that followed on the 29th April, I was again not allowed to have a lawyer/support person present with me. I was repeatedly asked by the committee as to why I had made this complaint of sexual harassment so late. I found the atmosphere of the committee very frightening and I was very nervous because of being confronted and questioned by three Supreme Court Judges and without even the presence of my lawyer/support person.”

It is stated by the complainant that she feels compelled to walk out of the inquiry since her request for her lawyer has been declined on multiple occasions. When the panel was informed by the complainant that she will be unable to participate in the proceedings further if she was not allowed her lawyer, the panel told her that the proceedings would continue ex-parte, the statement says.

“I was compelled to walk out of the committee proceedings today because the committee seemed not to appreciate the fact that this was not an ordinary complaint but was a complaint of sexual harassment against a sitting CJI and therefore it was required to adopt procedure that would ensure fairness and equality in the highly unequal circumstances that I am placed. I had hoped that the approach of the committee towards me would be sensitive and not one that would cause me further fear, anxiety, and trauma.”

When the three-Judge panel was first constituted, the complainant had raised concerns pertaining to Justice NV Ramana’s presence in the panel. It was stated that the close relationship shared by Justice Ramana with CJI Gogoi might not allow for an objective hearing of her side.

Justice Ramana had recused from the panel shortly after the complainant penned the letter expressing her reservations and Justice Indu Malhotra replaced Justice Ramana on the panel.

The in-house panel began hearing the matter on Friday, April 26.

Read the Press Note:

Bar and Bench - Indian Legal news