Rise to the occasion

The country’s Supreme Court is faced with a challenge: the challenge of delivering justice in instances of sexual misconduct in which the alleged culprits happen to be members of the judicial fraternity.  

Last month, the court stopped well short of initiating any action against retired apex court judge A K Ganguly, though it established that he was guilty of unwelcome sexual advances towards a law intern. The court maintained that it could not take any action against the guilty retired colleague since he had already retired when the incident of misconduct happened. 

But the apex court will find it difficult to give the same justification to avoid taking any action against another retired judge Swatanter Kumar, whom another law intern has accused of making unwelcome sexual advances. The reason: when justice Kumar allegedly misbehaved with the intern, he was still a sitting judge of the apex court. That the intern is serious about seeking justice is evident from the fact that she chose to submit an affidavit before the Chief Justice of India Justice P Sathasivam.

It would set an unhealthy precedent if the court looks the other way and does nothing about the allegations detailed in the affidavit. A probe is necessary and a natural follow-up step to establish the truth of the matter as the retired judge in question has vehemently denied any wrongdoing on his part, thus raising questions about the intern’s belated complaint. 

But there are other reasons why the court must probe the intern’s allegations. The retired judge concerned has certainly not liked that the media has identified him as the accused in the intern’s affidavit. Instead of seeking a probe himself to clear his name, justice Kumar has unfortunately threatened to take legal action against the media organisations that named him in the case.

There is no bar on naming accused persons in cases of criminal misconduct. Therefore, justice Kumar cannot seek a special treatment for himself. If his intention is to buy media silence, it should not be allowed to succeed.

The right course for the apex court is to address the issues raised in the affidavit. Since the intern has submitted a sworn affidavit, the court should not wait for her to approach it again specifically seeking a probe. A quick, transparent, and fair process of addressing the intern’s allegations will serve the ends of freedom and justice better.

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