In a significant move to usher in transparency in the higher judiciary, the Supreme Court, in a judgment on Thursday, directed its Registry to make public the “in-house procedure” followed for investigation of complaints, including sexual harassment at workplace, against judges and Chief Justices of High Courts.
The direction came in a judgment pronounced on a petition filed by a former additional district and sessions judge of Madhya Pradesh, seeking a fair investigation into her complaint of sexual harassment she allegedly faced from a sitting Madhya Pradesh High Court judge.
The in-house procedure, crystallised in a 1995 Supreme Court judgment in the C. Ravichandran Iyer case, details the various stages of investigation into complaints against sitting high court judges.
Under the procedure, the Chief Justice of the High Court concerned has only a “limited authority” to give an opinion on “whether or not a deeper probe is required.”
Reading out the relevant portions of the judgment in open court, a Bench of Justices J.S. Khehar and Arun Mishra observed that putting the in-house procedure of enquiry in the public domain would be in the interest of safeguarding judicial integrity.
“In view of the importance of the in-house procedure, it is essential to bring it into public domain. The Registry of the Supreme Court of India is accordingly directed, to place the same on the official website of the Supreme Court of India,” the judgment ordered.
Dealing with the present case, the judgment said it did not want to reveal the identity of the alleged victim or the High Court judge. The judgment refers to them as ‘X’ and ‘Justice A.’
One of the allegations of the victim is that she was harassed to dance to an “item song” and had to suffer sexually suggestive behaviour from the high court judge. The judge, a party in the Supreme Court petition, denied all the allegations.
The judgment passed strong observations against the way the Chief Justice of the Madhya Pradesh High Court dealt with the complaint.
The judgment concludes that the Madhya Pradesh Chief Justice “travelled beyond the determinative authority vested in him” by constituting a “two-judge committee” to commence an in-depth probe. This power is actually vested with the Chief Justice of India.
The Supreme Court further ordered the Madhya Pradesh Chief Justice to disassociate from a fresh investigation. It also directed the high court judge to be divested of “his administrative and supervisory authority and control over witnesses” who are largely court staffers.