On 20 April 2019, Chief Justice of India (CJI) Gogoi constituted a three-member bench, which also included the CJI to respond to the allegations of sexual assault levelled against the CJI, by former Supreme Court employee. As bizarre as it sounds, the three-membered bench which consisted of the CJI, Justice Arun Mishra and Justice Sanjiv Khanna, rubbished the allegations and stated them to be unbelievable and also accused them of bearing the intention of besmirching the CJI and threatening the independence of the CJI office. However, this unfathomable approach of the CJI to address serious allegations against somebody bearing an office of his stature has elicited wide criticism. Why did the CJI break the in-house practise of dealing with sexual assault allegations, when allegations surfaced against him?
The Judiciary is under serious threat claims CJI Gogoi, but under whose threat
“Independence of judiciary is under very very serious threat. If the judges have to work under these conditions, good people will never come to this office,” LiveLaw quotes the CJI, responding to allegations against him. By being part of a case against himself/herself, how can one not threaten the judiciary and the law? The affidavit filed by the former Supreme Court employee alleges the CJI of victimising her and her family. Having confronted such allegations and claiming to be innocent, it’s the responsibility of the CJI to disprove the accusations by fair means. By discounting the allegations, he is only doing harm to his own reputation and his office. The in-house practise of dealing with sexual assault accusations is to appoint an internal committee. The CJI refrained from referring the complaint to the Supreme Court’s Internal Complaints Committee. His hasty dismissal of the allegations gives birth to certain extremely unfavourable questions. ‘If the CJI claims the allegations to be false, why didn’t he refer the case to the internal committee for investigation?’ ‘If the bench was confident of the CJI’s innocence, why did the bench not intimate the complainant of the hearing and why was the hearing passed in the absence of the complainant without hearing to the complainant’s side of the story?’
CJI Gogoi is getting emotional while he should be acting responsibly
“After 20 years of selfless service. It is unbelievable …With a bank balance of 6,80,000 that is in my bank account. This is my total asset. When I started as a judge, I have much hope. On the verge of retirement, I have 6 lakhs” – CJI Gogoi (quoted by Live Law)
“I have to say this to the citizens of the country, Judiciary of the country is under serious threat. But regardless of that, I’ll continue to function” – CJI Gogoi (quoted by Live Law)
It’s not the CJI’s credibility that is under question but his approach. It’s his moral duty to take cognisance of the seriousness of the matter and responsibly disprove all allegations. The allegations may or may not be false, but the course of action should be acceptable by both the accused and the complainant. The accusations should be found false by an independent enquiry and not by the accused himself. Senior advocate, Dushyant Dave told The Wire, “This is the saddest day for the judiciary and the country, the CJI had done a great disservice to himself and the Supreme Court in presiding over a bench to hear a non-existent matter and to scotch the allegations, against himself, even if false. What is sadder is that the learned Attorney General and Solicitor General did not advise him correctly and joined in this rather unfortunate turn of events.”
The letter from the lawyers
On 21 April 2019, lawyers Ashish Goel and Gautam Bhatia wrote an open letter to the Chairman of Bar Council of India. In the letter, they have expressed their deep disappointment caused by the CJI’s cold response to the allegations against him. “…the very essence of rule of law is that the law of the land is above everyone, including the judges of the Supreme Court of India,” reads the letter. They also express their disdain over the special hearing, by writing,” What ensued on Saturday (April 20) morning in the Supreme Court is nothing short of a travesty of justice.” Their wrath over the matter did not spare the Chairman of the Bar Council of India, as they wrote, “We feel compelled to write to you to say that you, as the Chairman of the Bar Council of India, do not represent the views of the bar in the instant matter, and most certainly, do not speak for the undersigned lawyers.” The letter also states “Judicial independence does not imply freedom from accountability. The allegations of sexual harassment, made in a sworn affidavit with specific details, cannot be conveniently dismissed as being “wild”, “scandalous”, or politically motivated.” They even urged the Chairman of Bar Council of India to withdraw his comments as a mark of respect and honour to the fundamental principles and norms of our constitutional democracy. Many other advocates later endorsed this letter.
It’s not very late for CJI Gogoi to rectify his approach and refer the complaint to an internal committee and cleanse himself off all the allegations. As long as these allegations remain invalidated by fair means, our judicial system is undoubtedly under threat, may or may not be by external factors but definitely by the Chief Justice himself. It’s essential for the CJI and the top officials in the judicial system to uphold the integrity of the law and protect the citizens’ faith in the judiciary.