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SC to decide on permanent mechanism in sexual harassment cases
Wednesday January 15, 2014 11:19 PM, IANS

The Supreme Court, dealing with a law graduate's plea alleging sexual harassment by former judge Swatanter Kumar, Wednesday said it would decide on a "permanent mechanism" to attend to such complaints against judges at all levels.

National Green Tribunal chairman Justice (retd) Swatanter Kumar Wednesday filed a defamation case against the law graduate and certain media organisations in the Delhi High Court.

Swatanter Kumar, seeking a restraining order for the media not to publish or telecast news related to the allegations, except "fair reporting of court orders", also sought Rs.5 crore in damages from the law graduate and media houses (collectively) for "defaming him".

The high court reserved the order for Thursday, saying that till 10.30 a.m. the media can publish the court's order and proceedings.

The law graduate from Kolkata-based National University of Juridical Sciences alleged sexual harassment by the retired Supreme Court judge under whom she was interning in May 2011.

She moved the apex court asking it to put in place a permanent mechanism to attend to complaints of sexual harassment by both sitting and former judges at all levels of judiciary, including the apex court.

The Supreme Court issued notice to the secretary general of the Supreme Court, Justice (retd) Swatanter Kumar and Attorney General G.E. Vahanvati.

A bench of Chief Justice P. Sathasivam, Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justice Shiva Kirti Singh, however, refused to express any opinion on the allegations made by the law graduate against Justice Kumar.

The bench also questioned the more than two-year delay by the former law intern to report the matter.

"What is the date of alleged incident?" the bench asked, and was told that it relates to May 28, 2011.

It asked why the woman took so long to report the matter.

"Being a law graduate, why did she wait for so long," Chief Justice Sathasivam asked.

"Our apprehension is that there are so many retired judges and someone levels charges after 20 years when the retired judge is 85 years old."

Appearing for the law graduate, senior counsel Harish Salve said there was no permanent mechanism to attend to complaints of sexual harassment against judges and the existing grievance redressal committee was "inappropriate" to entertain complaints against judges.

Salve said there should be a permanent mechanism to look into complaints of sexual misconduct and a timeframe for making such complaints, be it three months, six months or one year.

Reiterating that there must be a screening mechanism where such complaints could be addressed, Salve said such matters going to media was "unpalatable to us and the judges" as the dignity and decorum of the Supreme Court as also theirs was inter-dependent.

He said that once such a permanent mechanism develops, then all such complaints including the current one could be dealt by it.

On Jan 11, Justice Kumar sent a legal notice and warned that he would initiate both criminal and civil defamation suits if certain media organisations failed to apologise within the deadline.

In the high court, he filed a defamation case against the law graduate, a national daily and two news channels, seeking direction for the central government to ensure that no media organisation - whether print, electronic or internet - carries any report or articles relating to the law graduate's complaint.

In the civil defamation suit, he said that in the 43 years of his career he earned an impeccable reputation and was well known for his "unimpeachable integrity and high moral values" and has been held in high esteem by not only the bar and bench but the public at large.

He said the media organisations named in the plea, without undertaking any verification of the allegations and without even inquiring into the authenticity of the alleged complaint, published the news item to defame him.

Justice Kumar said he was presently presiding as chairman of the NGT and has been fearlessly adjudicating matters listed before him, which necessarily involves the interest and stakes of corporate and industrial houses as also public interest.

Advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for Justice Kumar before Justice Manmohan Singh of the Delhi High Court, said it was a "conspiracy" against the retired judge (Kumar).

"The highest judiciary has been targeted," Rohatgi said.

He said it was "not fair reporting" on the part of the media houses.

"It is yellow journalism. It is journalism for highest TRP...", he said.

He said the media picked out "what was juicy for the story" and "trial by media comes as interference in the course of justice".

However, counsel appearing for a news channel said it reported the matter "fairly" and will do so in future also.

The counsel said the channel did not make any allegations against anyone.

"It was in the document which disclosed the name and the document was in the public domain", the counsel said, adding that the channel did not bring out the name of the judge on its own.

The former judge said the intern in question had hardly worked for three days in the judge's residential office in May 2011 and given the presence of two or three law clerks and office staff at all times in and around his residential office, it was impossible that the alleged incident could have taken place.

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