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New Delhi: Retiring Karnataka high court judge P. Krishna Bhat – whose elevation to the court was delayed for three years due to charges of sexual harassment that were later dismissed – suggested that judicial officers should offer themselves to narcoanalysis to protect judges from false and motivated allegations.
Justice Bhat, who is set to demit office on Sunday, August 7, was speaking at his farewell event. According to Bar and Bench, he said that complaints of misconduct arise at crucial stages of the careers of judges.
“If such an allegation is established or such a perception prevails, [the] judge is not independent and credibility is permanently dented. What then is the remedy?” he asked. Justice Bhat suggested that the complainant and the accused should offer themselves to narc0analysis, admitting that the step may seem “absurd and drastic at first”.
Narcolanalysis is a controversial investigative tool in which a subject is placed into a ‘hypnotic state’ after they are administered anaesthetic drugs. In this state, it is argued, the person’s imagination is “neutralised” and that they will divulge information that they believe is true to their knowledge.
“Judges, Judicial Officers and such other high functionaries like Lokayukta/Upa Lokayukta, etc. should offer themselves for narco-analysis test with the simultaneous liability for similar test on persons named by the functionary concerned, if the functionary feels the complaint is false and motivated,” he suggested, according to Bar and Bench.
“Such situations have caused incalculable damage to credibility of the functionary in particular and institution at large. It goes without saying that a debate is required and safeguards should be crafted for preventing abuse of the process in this regard,” he said.
His remarks assume significance as Justice Bhat’s elevation to the Karnataka high court, first recommended in 2016, was only approved by the government in 2020 because of allegations of sexual harassment against the judge. A complaint was filed against Bhat by a female judicial officer who had accused him of “atrocities and abuse of power”.
Then Chief Justice of India T.S. Thakur directed an inquiry into the allegations. Judge Bhat was absolved of the allegations and the woman’s complaints were aimed at maligning him and stalling his appointment as a high court judge, the inquiry found. However, the law ministry did not confirm his elevation.
His case also represented one of the earliest instances of the government refusing to confirm the recommendations of the Supreme Court collegium – despite a reiteration. These instances have become more frequent in recent years, with former SC judge Madan Lokur arguing recently that the appointment and transfer of judges are now beyond the control of the collegium.
Justice Bhat was finally appointed in May 2020, after a second inquiry also exonerated him of all charges.
In his farewell speech, Justice Bhat also said that though discussions about the independence of the judiciary are abound, “To my mind, threat to ‘Independence of Judiciary’ is a myth. Independence of Judiciary is realised by an individual Judge remaining independent. How is that attained? It is only by the Judge internalising certain values and virtues.”
He also criticised alleged instances of the sons and daughters of Supreme Court judges trying to influence judicial officers.
“If the progeny of the judges of the most superior Court in the country call on the judicial officers at their residence with eager litigants in tow with an attempt to pass slips and thereafter, drop the name of their forbear with hints of protection, then there is a serious problem to the independence of the judiciary,” he said.
According to Bar and Bench, the judge also criticised the hierarchical system of the judiciary, which he said negatively impacts the self-confidence, self-respect and sense of independence of judicial officers. He cited an example of a high court judge calling for action against a district judge because he was not received personally at the airport.
“Such vanities are destructive of judicial independence. Such Judges render themselves unfit to hold any public positions,” he said.
“You will be independent so long as you avoid doing excesses in the name of protocol. You will be independent if you undertake administration including recruitment processes in a fearless and independent manner regardless of possible ‘phone calls’ and ‘slips passed’ and inevitable possible reprisals,” he advised judicial officers.
Justice Krishna Bhat joined the bar at the district courts in Mangalore and in July 1989, he commenced his practice at the Karnataka HC. In 1998, he was directly recruited as a district and sessions judge and served in the capacity of principal district and sessions judge at Bidar, Tumkur, Raichur, Belgaum and Bangalore rural districts. He was also the registrar general of the Karnataka HC. He was appointed as an additional judge of the high court in May 2020 and was appointed as a permanent judge on September 25, 2021.