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No SC relief for judicial officer accused of sexually harassing woman court staff

twitter-logoPTI | August 21, 2019 | Updated 20:12 IST

New Delhi, Aug 21 (PTI) A suspended judicial officer, facing disciplinary proceedings on allegations of sexually harassing a woman court employee, failed to get relief Wednesday from the Supreme Court which dismissed his plea seeking quashing of the inquiry initiated against him. The apex court said there was "no error" in the July 13, 2016 decision of the full court of the Delhi High Court by which the judicial officer was suspended and inquiry proceeding initiated. A bench comprising Justices Ashok Bhushan and Navin Sinha delivered the verdict on a plea by the officer, who was working as an Additional District Judge at a district court in Delhi, challenging the jurisdiction of the high court in initiating inquiry and placing him under suspension. "We, thus, are of the view that there is no error in the decision of the full court (of high court) dated July 13, 2016 to suspend the petitioner and initiate the inquiry proceedings against the petitioner," the bench said, adding, "The power to suspend the judicial officer vests in the high court." The top court noted the facts of the case which said that on July 5, 2016 a written complaint was submitted against the officer by a woman, working as junior judicial assistant, alleging sexual harassment at work place. The complaint was addressed to the Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court. Another complaint dated July 11, 2016 was submitted to the chief justice by the woman, who had worked as a record keeper in the court of the judicial officer from May 2015 to May 2016. Her complaint came for up consideration before the full court of the high court on July 13, 2016, which resolved that the judicial officer be placed under suspension with immediate effect pending disciplinary proceeding contemplated against him. The full court also asked the registrar general of the high court to forward the July 5, 2016 complaint to the station house officer (SHO) of the concerned police station for appropriate action in accordance with law. The full court, by further resolution of July 19, 2016, resolved to constitute an Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) consisting of five members to inquire into the allegation of sexual harassment levelled against the judicial officer. On November 5, 2016, the ICC submitted a preliminary report to the full court in which the committee opined that a disciplinary inquiry be held against him. In a November 16, 2016 meeting, full court of the high court resolved that disciplinary proceedings for major penalty under Rule 8 of All India Services (Discipline and Appeal) Rules, 1969 be initiated against him. The officer approached the apex court challenging the jurisdiction of the full court which had placed him under suspension with immediate effect pending disciplinary proceeding contemplated against him. He had also sought quashing of the proceedings of ICC as well as the charge sheet given to him in the proceeding. Advocate Varinder Kumar Sharma, appearing for the petitioner, had argued that after receiving the complaint, the full court had not followed procedure of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 and erred in issuing punitive directions against the judicial officer. The bench, in its verdict, said that since the petitioner has opportunity in the disciplinary proceedings to challenge the ICC proceedings, it would not be appropriate for the apex court to enter into these issues. Dealing with the petitioner's contention regarding the jurisdiction of the full court in initiating inquiry and placing him under suspension, the bench said, "The full court of the high court is in no manner precluded from initiating disciplinary inquiry against the petitioner and placing the petitioner under suspension on being satisfied that sufficient material existed." It referred to earlier verdicts delivered by the apex court which had said that high court is the sole authority competent to initiate disciplinary proceedings against subordinate judicial officers. The bench also noted that provisions of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, "complaint mechanism and mechanism for constitution of the Internal Complaints Committee, mechanism to inquire the complaint are all for protection of dignity and welfare of women at work place". It also dealt with another issue as to whether non-supply of the November 2016 preliminary inquiry report, submitted by the ICC, to the petitioner vitiated the entire proceedings. The top court observed that the preliminary inquiry report did not contain any findings on the allegations made against the officer and it only opined that inquiry should be held. "We, thus, are of the view that no prejudice can be held to be caused to the petitioner by non-supply of the preliminary inquiry report dated November 5, 2016," it said. The bench made it clear that it is open for the petitioner to raise other issues related to the matter before the appropriate authority. 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