From the Viewsroom

Justice league

Paran Balakrishnan | Updated on May 09, 2019 Published on May 09, 2019

The apex court’s handling of the Gogoi case begs many questions

It’s one of the legal world’s first principles, known to laymen and laywomen alike, that justice must be done and also be seen to be done. It would be good to say this happened in the sexual harassment case against India’s Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi. The allegations were heard by a Supreme Court three-judge bench led by Justice SA Bobde, the next-in-line chief justice. With him were two women judges, including Indu Malhotra, the judge designated to probe all sexual harassment allegations in the court. It beggars belief such a bench would be party to any cover-up. Yet procedures the court followed have created enormous disquiet. To start, before the hearing, Chief Justice Gogoi declared his innocence in open court. His supporters note there’s no other way he could have spoken about the alleged events. (A second inquiry will probe whether any conspiracy existed to undermine the chief justice.)

More seriously, the way the court’s gone about its inquiry has created astonishment. By all indications, the bench heard the complainant who then withdrew, saying she couldn’t appear without counsel. She has since given interviews describing the hearing. But has the bench attempted to verify details in the complainant’s extensive allegations? This isn’t clear. The bench must have inquired into circumstances under which she was held in Tilak Marg police station. We must also presume the bench asked about circumstances surrounding her dismissal as junior court assistant and suspension of her husband and his brother, both with Delhi Police.

Many other assertions could be fact-checked but we don’t know whether the bench did all this and submitted its report in six days flat. The bench’s findings have been sealed and the complainant’s received no copy. She plans now to file a writ-petition against her dismissal but she’s aware she is taking on a decision by the top court. That’s all the more reason utmost caution should have been taken to ensure she’s clearly dealt a fair hand. The court should not forget another maxim enunciated by Thomas Fuller 300 years ago and reiterated by Lord Denning, Master of the Rolls, in recent years: “Be ye never so high, the law is above you.”

Published on May 09, 2019

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