An independent fearless judiciary is a leitmotif that protects constitutional values. Recently the Supreme Court which is the fundamental institution of the country faced a test of its integrity. Its history, its traditions, its verdicts, and its morality are being questioned after there were serious sexual harassment charges against the Hon’ble Chief Justice of India Justice Ranjan Gogoi levelled by an ex-employee of the supreme court.
Justice Ranjan Gogoi responded to allegations by calling them a part of a bigger conspiracy to weaken the credibility and independence of the judiciary. Serious allegations were raised by Advocate Utsav Bains that the sexual harassment allegations were a part of a larger conspiracy plotted by “a lobby of disgruntled judges, SC fixers, corporate scamsters, and a few corrupt Politicians” against CJI. But looking at the latest developments and the steps taken towards addressing the challenge it looks like a conspiracy by the CJI to protect himself from the allegations and to corner the victim rather than a conspiracy against him.
Many basic procedures and principles of natural justice are ridiculed at several steps in the case. The very fundamental principle of ‘Nemo judex in causa sua’, that is, ‘no man shall be a judge in his own case‘ was violated by the CJI when he initially decided to sit along with the two-member bench formed for the hearing of the case. This violation of principle which is considered fundamental to the doctrine of natural justice and the non-reflection of his name in the official court record order raised many doubts in the way the judges and CJ carried on the case. Accusations were made by the victim that she was not given an opportunity to choose the legal officer to defend herself, errors of omission took place which included the non-examination of witnesses. All these accusations violate the principle of ‘Audi altarem partem’, that is, ‘hear the other side’.
The seriousness of a matter is not a guarantee of truth, therefore, it requires serious judicial examination but these violations of the Rule of law have prima facie made the CJI look like a conspirator in his own case to protect his reputation. CJI has done what he and three other judges who protested and forewarned the nation in an unprecedented press conference on January 12, 2018. He failed in obeying the basic principles of law and denied a fair investigation to the victim.
Also the CJI hurriedly, in the extraordinary hearing spoke extempore and spoke whatever was in his heart and mind calling the allegations a part of “bigger force” behind the complaint by the people who “want to deactivate the office of CJI” as many serious and sensitive cases are to be heard by the Supreme Court in the coming days. These statements made by the CJI before the media without any proper investigation has unnecessarily dragged down the judicial institution as a whole and tied it with the allegations against him which were personal in nature.
Justice Khanna and Justice Mishra also called the allegations scandalous even before investigating the case. This speaks volumes of the understanding of law and justice when judges of the Supreme Court prejudge the matter without due process.
Without there being any material proved on the basis of the order of the court, such things should not be highlighted in the press because such unfounded claims can seriously harm the reputation and moral authority of the institution. It is the faith of the common man in the judiciary which is reaffirming the faith in democracy among the people. We are living in the age where the credibility of all the institutions are under threat, and if these allegations are proved to be a conspiracy plotted by the scandalous people then it will be a serious matter, as we all are aware of how a political class or other bigwigs attack the institutions and undermine them.
The allegation of sexual harassment against the CJI is so sensitive that it keeps the reputation of our tall standing proud institution of the justice system at stake. Whatever may be the judgment of the court, the credibility of the judiciary is already under the scanner. Even if the CJI is innocent, he has shown great incompetence which is a gross violation of natural justice.
If these allegations are proved to be a part of a conspiracy by interest groups and corrupt politicians as alleged by Advocate Utsav Bains, even then the credibility and integrity of the Judges will be questioned. The veracity of previous verdicts will be questioned. People will lose confidence in the whole judicial system. So we are in a situation where whatever be the decision, it will have a bad impact on the way people perceive and regard our country’s judicial system.
This is not a fight between two individuals rather it’s a fight between the individuals and the institution. Individuals will come and go but the institution will remain and to protect it’s sanctity, instead of the AdHoc mechanism, a permanent institutional mechanism should be established for Judges by passing the Judicial Standards and Accountability bill. Equality before the law and due process of law should be applied irrespective of the authority a person enjoys. Fake allegations should be dealt with seriously and media houses promoting fake allegations before the claims even get proven should be fined and authors of such publication should be punished.
Let us just pray and hope that the truth comes out and the Supreme Court shapes its future in a way that it is able to fortify it against any such attacks.