Supreme Court constitutes committee to frame guidelines on prevention of sexual harassment of female lawyers and staff of Supreme Court

Supreme Court constitutes committee to frame guidelines on prevention of sexual harassment of female lawyers and staff of Supreme Court

Murali Krishnan

The Supreme Court has constituted a committee to draft rules, guidelines and procedural framework to be adopted by the sexual harassment complaint committee, while dealing with complaints relating to sexual harassment of women lawyers and staff of the Court.

A three judge Bench comprising Chief Justice Altamas Kabir and Justices Anil R. Dave and Ranjana Prakash Desai agreed to constitute the committee while hearing a writ petition pertaining to safety of female lawyers in courts. The said petition had been filed by lawyers Binu Tamta, and Vibha Makhija.

A report prepared by National Legal Services Authority Member Secretary, Asha Menon and draft rules prepared by Advocate Vibha Makhija were also submitted before the Court. The report pointed out that the lack of guidelines and rules to govern sexual harassment committees at High Courts and district courts across the country was seriously impeding their functioning. Lack of space was cited as another major roadblock for the smooth functioning of these committees.

Advocate Vibha Makhija requested the Court to constitute a committee to draft rules and guidelines to govern complaints relating to sexual harassment of women lawyers. Makhija also urged that the draft rules submitted by them be considered by the committee. A further request was made to appoint Justice Ranjana Prakash Desai as the chairman of the committee.

The draft rules submitted by Makhija proposes the constitution of a “Supreme Court Internal Complaints Committee” for the purpose of inquiring into and passing orders against the deviant/delinquent in complaints of sexual harassment. This committee was free to examine any complaint of sexual harassment in the entire precincts of the Supreme Court including the Chamber Blocks. Once a complaint is made, fact finding with respect to the complaint has to be completed within 90 days. Under the draft rules, penalties for sexual harassment include debarment of entry into the Supreme Court, filing criminal complaint with the concerned Bar Council etc.

Attorney General Goolam E. Vahanvati told the Court that a similar matter had already been dealt with by the Supreme Court when it had issued directions on October 19, 2012 in the light of Vishaka judgment. The said directions had been issued to various bodies like the Bar Council of India, and the Medical Council of India to establish committees to deal with complaints relating to sexual harassment at work place. He also pointed out that the term ‘work place’ with respect to a lawyer was ambiguous because it could include the court premises as well as a lawyer’s chamber.

The Court, after hearing the parties, said that it will constitute a committee which will consider all aspects including framing of draft guidelines and rules and posted the matter for May 7, 2013.

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