The Supreme Court Monday agreed to examine a plea by a woman lawyer, who has accused Justice Swatanter Kumar of sexual harassment, to move out of Delhi the defamation case filed by the retired judge against her and some media houses.
Maintaining that justice should not only be done but also seem to be done, a bench led by Chief Justice of India R M Lodha issued notices to Kumar and the media houses. The bench sought their responses within four weeks on shifting the suit to a court outside Delhi in view of the apprehensions by the lawyer that an “institutional bias was operating in his favour”.
“The most significant aspect for our consideration is the confidence of the people… a litigant must have the feeling that justice and only justice will be done… to ensure no party is prejudiced,” observed the bench.
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It added that the court has to go by the likelihood of bias for the good of the institution. “If transfer of a matter helps the thought of a party that he or she will get justice and no injustice is caused to the other party, then in our thought, it will only enhance the cause of justice,” said the bench.
On the issue of Kumar’s eminent position in the judiciary, the court remarked: “We judges are made of stuff that it does not matter who is a party before us once we take up a case…we will not transfer a case only to satisfy somebody’s ego.”
While the court refrained from staying the proceeding of the defamation suit before the Delhi High Court, senior advocate K K Venugopal, appearing for Kumar, undertook that the parties will seek an adjournment so that the issue first gets decided by the top court.
In the transfer petition, the woman has cited Justice Kumar’s “status” in the legal fraternity, and said she was “hopelessly in a subordinate position” with respect to him in the legal battle pending between them in the High Court.
The petition stated that Kumar, presently chairperson of the National Green Tribunal, has worked as a judge of the high courts of Delhi, Punjab and Haryana and Bombay, besides serving as a judge of the Supreme Court.
The woman has claimed that she was a law intern when the alleged incident occurred. Kumar’s defamation suit had made The Indian Express and a senior reporter of the paper, Times Now and CNN-IBN, besides the woman, parties to the case.
By its interim order, the High Court has directed newspapers, TV channels and websites to refrain from publishing any report, highlighting the allegations of sexual harassment against the former judge without specifying in the headline that they were “mere allegations”. It also issued a temporary injunction on all media organisations, restricting them from publishing photographs of the retired judge, which may suggest connection of the plaintiff with the said allegations.