Has the relevance of the old saying that people in high places must, like Caesar’s wife, be above suspicion been forgotten in the once revered environs of the Supreme Court of India?
The layman, unlettered in the finer points of judicial practice, would be inclined to think so in light of the controversial developments in recent days. Transparency has never been a strong point in the internal administrative functioning of that celebrated institution, so the people are unlikely to ever be enlightened on reports of misgivings within the judges’ community on the functioning of the inhouse committee entrusted with deciding on a complaint of alleged sexual misbehavior by the Chief Justice of India levelled by an employee of the court.
That panel has now cleared the Chief Justice of any wrongdoing and held that the complaint was without basis. But questions about how the panel dealt with the complaint will not go away in a hurry. The court’s secretary-general had categorically denied a report in a leading newspaper that two judges met the head of the inquiry panel ~ but was not so forthright about a letter one of the judges is said to have written to the panel advising it against continuing with an ex-parte probe, a missive that more than one newspaper has mentioned.
The court, and its secretariat, were hardly expected to indulge in such technicalities. While the gossip-mill on Tilak Marg is working overtime, it is not difficult to suspect that the divisions now surfacing had their origins in the controversial press conference some senior judges had addressed last year. That issue had never been fully “resolved” ~ have its lingering remnants now resurfaced?
In the court of public opinion some sympathy would be extended to the complainant. It takes courage to allege sexual advances by someone so senior, and then there is her contention that her husband (a policeman) found himself in trouble after she blew the whistle. There would also be sympathy for her decision of opting out of the inhouse panel ~ to face a trio of judges would unnerve anybody, more so after being denied permission to be represented by professional counsel.
These are said to be some of the points made to the panel by the judge ~ who claims his objections were being raised only so that the sanctity and honour of the apex court were preserved. In normal course the release of the judge’s letter might have been sought, but the case is far from normal. The larger issue goes beyond the complainant and her allegation, or the manner in which it was processed.
The Supreme Court sets a national standard, it must never allow itself to become a subject of bazaar gossip, or face protests of the kind it did on Tuesday against the findings of the three-judge panel. A vital part of our Constitutional edifice is threatened when prohibitory orders are clamped outside the nation’s apex court.