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‘Entire Process Has Been Unfair’: Karuna Nundy on CJI Clean Chit

SC advocate Karuna Nundy explains what the inquiry panel got wrong, and what the complainant can do next.

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“Frankly, it’s a matter of sadness that things have come to this pass.”

Supreme Court advocate Karuna Nundy expressed her disappointment at the way in which the allegations of sexual harassment against Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi have been handled by the court, and the manner in which the Justice Bobde-led panel conducted its inquiry.

In an exclusive interview to The Quint, Nundy explained why she had hoped for a fair process to be followed, and had been hopeful this would happen, especially after Justice Ramana recused himself from the in-house committee which probed the complaint made by a former junior court assistant.

However, the process followed by the panel turned out to be problematic, with them failing to provide the complainant with a lawyer, or even anyone to support her.

“I can’t see why she would not be allowed a lawyer, given the fact that the balance of power was so massive here, particularly in the area of law, between a court assistant and the Chief Justice of India. I think that a lawyer or amicus curiae is something that really should have been granted in the blink of an eye.”

According to Nundy, not only did the inquiry panel fail to comply with the basic requirements for such a matter, but “they should have gone far beyond, given the particular circumstances.”

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What Happens Now?

So does the complainant have any options going forward?

Nundy believes she does. She says she should be able to file a writ petition in the Delhi High Court challenging the decision of the inquiry panel – though this would “take a judge that had courage and integrity above and beyond what any judge has been called on to do.”

If this were to happen, though, she thinks there are a number of grounds on which the decision can be challenged, for being violative of the principles of natural justice.

First, on the basis that reasons were not given (since the report hasn’t been made public and isn’t being given to the complainant). Second, how could the principles of natural justice be satisfied when the complainant had withdrawn from the inquiry?

Nundy also makes an important point about how the fact that this was a case against the CJI should have been factored into the process.

“The content of natural justice varies according to the nature of the hearing. And where the nature of the hearing is that you are impugning the actions of a Supreme Court Chief Justice before a Supreme Court panel, then surely, natural justice requires that you be assisted by a lawyer.”

She also makes a compelling argument that the process against the CJI has to adhere to the same standards followed in other workplaces.

She believes that the process could have been salvaged and that it hadn’t been too late for the panel to accept the requests of the complainant for a lawyer and external committee – something which had been reportedly suggested by Justice DY Chandrachud.

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Whither the Court’s Reputation?

At the end of the day, however, these things were not done, and the panel arrived at its decision ex parte, granting the CJI a clean chit. Regardless of the merits of the case, the way in which the inquiry conducted itself will be its legacy.

“The entire process has been so unfair, actually, that ... the final decision maligns the reputation of the fairness of the court – because of the process which has been so problematic. I just think that the court has not done itself any service in this regard.”

Nundy was unsure whether this will lead to more protests like the one outside the Supreme Court on Tuesday, though by Wednesday, there were more protests and more detentions of activists by Delhi Police at Rajiv Chowk.

More than this, she was concerned about the lines of further inquiry the court is still looking into, including a petition against the lawyers who helped the complainant, and the claims of a conspiracy to frame the CJI by advocate Utsav Bains.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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Topics:   Supreme Court   Inquiry   Protestors 

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