The woman lawyer who has accused Justice Swatanter Kumar of sexual harassment moved the Supreme Court on Tuesday asking that the defamation case filed by the retired judge against her and some media houses be moved out of Delhi in view of the “institutional bias operating in his favour”.
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 Delhi 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.
“During his judicial career, he (Kumar) has obviously developed good relations with his colleagues, particularly the lawyers and judges. The Senior Counsel representing him have all invariably appeared before him either as a High Court Judge or a Supreme Court Judge and in all probability and potentially even before him as Chairperson of the Green Tribunal. In the circumstances, the petitioner reasonably apprehends that there is likely to be an institutional bias operating in his favour,” the petition said.
The law is that justice must not only be done but also be seen to be done, the woman has said, pleading that she genuinely apprehended that she would not get a fair trial in the Delhi High Court.
“The entire atmosphere required for a free and fair trial does not exist in the High Court of Delhi… The entire effort of the Respondent No. 1 (Kumar) is to overawe the petitioner in her effort to seek redressal of the sexual harassment that she faced… Because of the circumstances of this case, and having regard to the huge inequality in the balance of power between the petitioner and Respondent No. 1 transfer is expedient to meet the ends of justice,” she said.
The petitioner added that she had been working in Bangalore for the last year and a half, with no real connections to the legal fraternity in Delhi.
“It is submitted that Delhi is an inconvenient forum for the petitioner, as she has no access to lawyers to provide her with adequate legal representation. The petitioner is living and working in Bangalore and it would be not just inconvenient for her to attend the proceedings of the trial in Delhi, but also threatening and intimidating in which the respondent is represented by 22 lawyers including Senior Lawyers,” she said.
The petition contended that transfer of the defamation suit outside Delhi was imperative to maintain public faith in the judiciary, particularly in view of “the stature, and the institutional position that the respondent occupied and continues to occupy, and the gravity of the allegations”.
The Delhi High Court will hear on Thursday an application by the lawyer for vacating the injunction order passed on January 16.
Entertaining Kumar’s plea, the high court had then 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”.
The court had 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”.
The lawyer has filed a separate petition in the Supreme Court, seeking an inquiry into alleged sexual harassment charges against Kumar, besides examining the feasibility of having a permanent mechanism to deal with such accusations against sitting and retired judges. A three-judge bench is likely to hear the matter in July.