New Delhi, July 21 :
The Supreme Court Monday issued notice to NGT chairman Justice on a woman lawyer’s plea seeking transfer of a defamation case he filed in the Delhi High Court over her allegation of sexual harassment when she was his intern in May 2011.
The lawyer, a graduate from Kolkata-based National University of Juridical Sciences, has sought the transfer of case to a civil court in Bangalore where she is working with an NGO.
A bench of Chief Justice R.M. Lodha, Justice Kurian Joseph and Justice Rohinton Fali Nariman issued notice as the lawyer alleged an apprehension of an institutional bias operating in the favour of Justice (retd.) Swatanter Kumar in the high court with which he had a long association – first as a practising lawyer and later as its judge twice before he was elevated to the apex court.
The notice is returnable in four weeks.
Appearing for the petitioner, senior counsel Indira Jaising told the court that it is not the contention of the petitioner that the high court would, in fact, favour Justice Swatanter Kumar, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) chief now, but she has reasonable apprehension to that affect.
Jaising said that reasonable apprehension was a ground enough to seek the transfer of the case from Delhi High Court to a civil court in Bangalore.
The court was told that all efforts of the woman lawyer to get a senior lawyer to represent her in the high court have failed as most of them have appeared for Swatanter Kumar or before him as a judge. She said that in one hearing, 24 lawyers appeared for him in the high court.
The lawyers who have appeared for Justice Swatanter Kumar reads like who’s who of senior counsel including present Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi.
As senior counsel K.K. Venugopal opposed the plea saying that it caused reflection on 42 judges of the court, Chief Justice Lodha said: “Go by the likelihood of her apprehension. Don’t go by what I think or you think of judges.”
“If transfer of a case addresses the apprehension of a party (to the case) without affecting the other party, the balance could be drawn. Transfer does not harm anybody,” the court said as Venugopal sought time to respond to the plea for transferring the case.
As Jaising said that the next date of hearing was Aug 28, Venugopal said that nothing would happen as they would seek adjournment.
The apex court Jan 15 had issued notice on the lawyer’s plea to put in place a permanent mechanism to attend to the complaints of sexual harassment by both sitting and former judges at all levels of judiciary, including the apex court. She made the plea for mechanism after her complaint was returned to her by the apex court saying that it would not entertain plea against its former judges.
The court had appointed senior counsel Fali Nariman and P.P. Rao asking them to give their suggestions on the putting in place a mechanism to deal with the complaints of sexual harassment against sitting and retired judges at all levels.
Justice Swatanter Kumar had denied the allegation and on his plea, the Delhi High Court had restrained media organisations from carrying stories based on the lawyer’s allegations.