Bad news just won’t go away.
So it remains to be seen if the lengthy summer vacation of the apex court will result in any dissipation of the foul “smell” that has been created by an in-house committee, albeit of a trio of honourable judges, proceeding with its ex-parte probe that found “no substance” in the allegations of sexual misconduct levelled against the Chief Justice of India by a since-dismissed junior worker of the judicial institution.
Hardly has a day passed since that controversial finding was announced without more fuel being added to a fire which, eventually, must singe the reputation of the court itself. Women’s rights activists have been out on the streets, detained by the police… And now the government’s top law officer has announced that he had, in his personal capacity having spent more than 50 years as a legal practitioner, recommended an inqury by eminent former judges ~ not three “subordinates” of the CJI.
While Mr KK Venugopal has rejected reports of having such grave differences with the government that he had contemplated quitting the office of Attorney-General, the fact that he has found it necessary to clarify his position only reflects the dismay among sections of the legal fraternity at the seemingly one-sided procedure the CJI had prescribed for dealing with a case “against himself”.
A procedure that, in the public eye, seems to run counter to the principles of natural justice. What the ultimate outcome will be is difficult to determine at present; it is unlikely that the “pressure” will ease. After the “Me too” crusade attracted global support the judicial leadership ought to have been more sensitive to a women’s issue ~ it was expected to break the stereotype attitude of a male-dominated hierarchy but wound up reinforcing the stereotype ~ even if two women were part of the probe trio.
That the panel’s findings are not to be disclosed only enhances the “enigma”. Which fool spoke of the importance of justice being “seen to have been done”? The apex court will be hard-pressed to live this one down. Seldom before in recent times ~ not just during the term of the present government to be sure ~ has the highest judicial institution been asked to step in to compensate for executive and legislative ineptitude (or worse).
Which is all the more reason for the court to have enhanced its standing with the public. Sadly, the image has been sullied by the refusal to ensure “due process” to the complainant in a case of alleged sexual misconduct in which few legal intricacies were involved.
The CJI owed it to himself, and the judiciary at large, to ensure that the public perception of the apex court remained pristine. Now that self-induced clouds are hovering, the independence of their Lordships to counter powerful forces stands, tragically, diminished.