Justice Indu Malhotra has joined the constitutional bench of Supreme Court in the alleged sexual harassment case filed against Chief Justice of India, Ranjan Gogoi after Justice NV Ramana opted out of it. It was after the former Supreme Court staffer, who has accused CJI Gogoi of sexual harassment, objected to Justice Ramana’s presence in the panel claiming he is “a close friend of the CJI and like a family friend to him”, and that she “fears” her “affidavit and evidence will not receive an objective and fair hearing”, that he recused himself from the panel, reported Indian Express.

Apart from Malhotra, the bench comprises of Justice S A Bobde and Justice Indira Banerjee and they are scheduled to meet on Friday. Justice Malhotra is also the chief of Gender Sensitisation and Internal Complaints Committee (GSICC) of the court. So, she hears cases of sexual harassment on the Supreme Court premises.

Justice Ramana clarified his intention to opt out of the bench to the Supreme Court as he wrote that his remission “is only based on an intent to avoid any suspicion that this institution will not conduct itself in keeping with the highest standards of judicial propriety and wisdom”.

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“It is the extraordinary nature of the complaint, and the evolving circumstances and discourse that underly my decision to recuse and not the grounds cited by the complainant per se. Let my recusal be a clear message to the nation that there should be no fears about probity in our institution, and that we will not refrain from going to any extent to protect the trust reposed in us. That is, after all, our final source of moral strength,” he said in a letter.

Justice Ramana observed, “Justice must not only be done, but also manifestly seem to be done”, adding, “Let me also caution, at this stage, that it is also equally true that no one who approaches the Court should have the power to determine the forum and subvert the processes of justice. Let not my recusal in the instant matter be taken to mean, even in the slightest of measures, that we have transgressed either of these principles.”

The woman in her complaint against the presence of Justice Ramana had mentioned that apparently he had already pre-judged her complaint in a speech given by him in Hyderabad, to which he referred to in his letter of recusal and said that the topic of the speech was “Judicial Journey – The Road Ahead”. The topic was decided at least two weeks prior to the receipt of the woman’s complaint. He said that he spoke about the personal attacks against the members of judiciary seeking to cast aspersions on their ability to render impartial judgments.

“If anything, the implicit assumption of that portion of my speech was that our conduct as judges ought to be exemplary so as to protect the dignity of the judicial institution from these frequent attacks. Judges, therefore, ought not to be cowed down in upholding the dignity of the judiciary. The dignity of the judiciary, first and foremost, flows from the capacity of judges to render impartial justice. The fact that this assertion, on the need to protect the dignity of the judiciary, is now being used to allege bias is a sad reflection of the state of affairs,” Justice Ramana said, The Hindu reported.

Let me also caution, at this stage, that it is also equally true that no one who approaches the Court should have the power to determine the forum and subvert the processes of justice. Let not my recusal in the instant matter be taken to mean, even in the slightest of measures, that we have transgressed either of these principles.

On him being a ‘close friend’ and like a family member of CJI Gogoi, he clarified in the letter that SC court judges attend official meetings at the residence office of the CJI. Judges meet each other regularly.

“In fact, we call ourselves a ‘family’ — to encapsulate that fraternity and collegiality. The same, inter alia, are essential for an honest appreciation of differences of opinions among fellow judges, which in turn, is vital for the intellectual growth of a judge,” he wrote.

“The Chief Justice of India is primus inter pares, who allots a variety of administrative duties and responsibilities to the Judges… My visits to the residence of Chief Justice of India cannot, therefore, suggest any proximity than what is absolutely normal under the circumstances. Thus, the apprehension expressed by the complainant in this regard is wholly misconceived,” Justice Ramana said.

Picture credit- Punjab Tribune

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