New Delhi: Should Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi have been part of the bench that heard the matter related to allegations of sexual harassment levelled against him by a woman?
The question is being discussed by jurists even though the CJI opted out midway in the hearing and left it to the other two judges, who were nominated to be part of the bench, to take a call on passing the judicial order.
While noted jurist Rakesh Dwivedi preferred to speak on record on the issue, other senior advocates agreed to express their views, but wished not to reveal their names.
Dwivedi termed as “unusual, extraordinary and unlawful” the hearing on allegations of sexual harassment against Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi by a bench headed by the CJI himself.
“My firm view is that the CJI should not have presided over the bench. It is a settled principle that no one should be a judge of his own case,” Dwivedi told PTI.
He said that if the CJI wanted to clarify his position, he should have called a press conference.
“It is absolutely unusual, extraordinary and unlawful for him to sit through the proceedings and then not sign the order,” he said.
The senior lawyer also dealt with the issue of “indirect gagging” of media from reporting and termed the observations of the bench pertaining to allegations as “judicial terrorism”.
A senior law officer said there was nothing wrong in the CJI sitting in the three-judge bench as he had already made it clear that he will not be a part of the judicial order which would be passed by the other two judges of the bench.
The law officer said as judges cannot go to the press or communicate to the public, the “CJI wanted to justify himself” and “made the remarks while sitting on the bench which should be given publicity”.
However, Justice Gogoi, before becoming the CJI, had along with three other senior-most judges of the Supreme Court held a controversial press conference on January 12, 2018.
Justice Gogoi, along with Justices J. Chelameswar, Kurian Joseph and M.B. Lokur, all three since retired, held the press conference, virtually revolting against the then Chief Justice Dipak Misra by levelling a litany of allegations.
Another senior advocate said that the CJI should have kept himself away from the bench as the allegations were against him.
“Ideally, I would have respected the CJI’s move if he had not involved himself in the bench,” he said, adding there was a need for taking the matter to the logical end.
An attempt was made to contact some of the former chief justices of India on the issue, but they said they did not want to be drawn into the controversy.
“It is for you people to find out what is the truth and do whatever you feel like, but I have nothing to say,” a former CJI said.
Describing the allegations of sexual harassment against him as “unbelievable”, Justice Gogoi convened an extraordinary hearing at the Supreme Court on Saturday during which he said a “bigger force” was behind it and he would not stoop so low as to even deny these allegations.
In the hearing that was called hurriedly after the allegations cropped up, the apex court left it to the “wisdom of media” to show restraint and act responsibly so that independence of judiciary is not affected.
Dwivedi, however, was critical of the judicial order.
“They have not gagged the press but they have tried to make the suggestion. And, they have also preached us the issues without any inquiry. Without any inquiry, they have preached us this is scandalous and this and that.”
“The observations made by the bench are not required. Media is always expected to do that. So media should be allowed to perform its duty according to its own wisdom freely and without any terrorism. There should be no judicial terrorism either on the media or on the lady,” Dwivedi said.
He said that if the CJI was not part of the judicial order passed in the case then he should not have been on the bench at the first place.
“It makes no sense that you sit in the proceedings and you do not sign the order. What is this happening, why are you sitting then. That is why I am saying if you only wanted to clarify, you should have called a press conference and this whole proceeding was not required at all,” the lawyer said.
Favouring an impartial inquiry into the whole saga, Dwivedi said merely because four portals have carried the story, pertaining to the allegation of an individual against the other, the independence of judiciary is not affected.
“This principle of independence of judiciary is something which pertains to separation of powers and it is vis-a-vis the Executive and that the government should not interfere,” he said.
The senior lawyer said that nobody denied that the woman was an employee and was “thrown out of the job” and this was a serious matter warranting an “impartial inquiry”.