SC stays sexual harassment inquiry against District Judge

The Supreme Court on Friday stayed the disciplinary inquiry against a District judge into the sexual harassment allegations levelled by a woman judicial officer and sought a response from the Registrar General of Madhya Pradesh High Court on his plea. This has become a "practice now" when someone comes under "zone of consideration" for elevation as a judge of superior courts, said a bench headed by Chief Justice S A Bobde.

The top court stayed the High Court's order that had given a go ahead to the sexual harassment inquiry against the judge, who was in the zone of consideration for elevation as a high court Judge.

The Madhya Pradesh High Court on August 14 had dismissed the plea of the district judge and had given the go ahead to the Gender Sensitisation Internal Complaint Committee to proceed with the disciplinary enquiry against him.

A woman judicial officer of the Subordinate Judicial Service had filed a complaint on March 7, 2018 against the District judge alleging sexual harassment at work place.

The bench, also comprising Justices A S Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian, took note of the submissions of senior lawyer R Balasubramanian and advocate Sachin Sharma on behalf of the District judge and issued notices to the Registrar General and its Gender Sensitisation and Internal Complaints Committee (GSICC).

The plea said that the High Court found no illegality in "facts or in law in the Final Report" of April 30, 2019 of the GSICC which had earlier not found "evidence to proceed" against the District judge and had recorded its categorical finding in resolution of April 23.

"Despite such categorical finding of 'no evidence' and 'no material to proceed in the matter', the GSICC in an volta face action recommended disciplinary action against the petitioner as well as the complainant dehors the mandate of law contained in Sec 10, 11 and 13 of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013," the plea said.

"It is submitted that the petitioner has an unblemished judicial service career spanning over 32 years with sterling record of service and he is due to superannuate at the end of the year, 2020.

"The entire action of Respondents (HC and its committee) is visited with arbitrariness, malafide and in complete violation of law and the principles of natural justice by holding enquiry and or recording statements behind the back of the petitioner repeatedly without giving any opportunity to cross examine even once the complainant at any stage," the District judge said in the plea.

All these actions have been done at a time when the petitioner is in the zone of consideration for being considered for elevation, the plea said.

Earlier, the apex court had refused to entertain the previous plea of the district judge seeking quashing of show cause notice of the GSICC.

It had granted liberty to the district judge to withdraw the petition and avail such other remedies as may be available in law.

The judicial officer then moved the Jabalpur bench of the High Court which dismissed the plea.

The district judge challenged the issuance of show cause notice by the Principal Registrar of Madhya Pradesh High Court for the inquiry.

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