The court said the 'in-house procedure' to inquire into the alleged misconduct was not a toothless mechanism as it could be the basis for the impeachment of a judge under article 124 of the constitution and directed it be made public."
New Delhi, Dec 18 - The Supreme Court Thursday quashed a two-judge panel set up by Madhya Pradesh chief justice to probe allegations of sexual harassment levelled by a woman district judge against a high court judge. The woman judge later resigned.
A bench of Justice Jagdish Singh Khehar and Justice Arun Mishra quashed the panel, saying the state chief justice constituted it improperly as it was in violation of in-house procedures put in place by the Supreme Court to probe allegations of misconduct against sitting judges of the high courts.
Setting aside the probe panel, the apex court said that in the in-house procedure, the limited authority of the chief justice of the concerned high court, is to determine whether or not a deeper probe is required.
The said determination is part of stage one (comprising the first three steps) of the in-house procedure.
The chief justice of the high court, in the present case, travelled beyond the determinative authority vested in him, under stage one of the 'in-house procedure', the court said.
Justice Khehar said the chief justice by constituting a 'two-judge committee', commenced an in-depth probe into the allegations levelled by the petitioner (former additional district and sessions judge).
The procedure adopted by the chief justice of the high court forms a part of the second stage... it said, adding the second stage was to be carried out under the authority of the Chief Justice of India.
The court said the judge, against whom allegations were levelled, will be divested of administrative and supervisory responsibilities and since the state's chief justice has already taken a firm position on the issue, he too will not associate himself with the 'in house procedure'.
In order to ensure that the investigative process is fair and just, it is imperative to divest the concerned judge of his administrative and supervisory authority and control over witnesses, to be produced either on behalf of the complainant, or on behalf of the concerned judge himself, the court said.
The court said the chief justice having assumed a firm position, in respect of certain facts contained in the complaint filed by the petitioner, ought not to be associated with the 'in-house procedure' in the present case.
The court said the CJI may reinitiate the investigative process, under the procedure, by vesting the authority required to be discharged by the state chief justice, to a chief justice of some other high court, or alternatively, may himself assume the said role.
Holding back the names of the woman judge, who resigned after she was transferred to the remote district of Sidhi after the alleged incident, and that of the judge against whom allegations were levelled, the court said that the authenticity of the allegations of sexual harassment which have been expressly disputed would stand affirmed or repudiated only after culmination of due process.
The court said the 'in-house procedure' to inquire into the alleged misconduct was not a toothless mechanism as it could be the basis for the impeachment of a judge under article 124 of the constitution and directed it be made public.
In view of the importance of the 'in-house procedure', it is essential to bring it into the public domain. The registry of the Supreme Court of India is accordingly directed to place the same on the official website of the Supreme Court, it said.