The Supreme Court is unlikely to take up the sexual harassment allegation against Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi in the near future without a fresh cause of action, such as a PIL, sources in the judiciary have indicated.
If the matter comes up, however, the Chief Justice would not be part of the bench, which is likely to be headed by Justice Arun Mishra, sources close to Justice Gogoi told The Telegraph on Sunday.
They said the Chief Justice, who is the master of the roster, had decided in principle not to preside over any such bench, if formed, to avoid charges of impropriety or a conflict of interest.
On Saturday, the Supreme Court had convened a special session on its own to deal with the issue.
Heading the bench, Justice Gogoi had denied the allegations. Since no notice to any aggrieved party was issued, the matter need not be listed again.
However, if a public interest plea is moved by the woman or by someone on her behalf — or if someone challenges her claim and seeks a probe into a possible conspiracy — a bench will have to be constituted.
No FIR can be registered against serving or retired judges of the high courts or the Supreme Court, as laid down by a five-judge constitution bench in 1991 and endorsed by another five-judge bench in 2017.
The 2017 judgment said this measure was meant “to ensure the independence of the judiciary” in the light of “the apprehension that the executive… is likely to misuse the power to prosecute the judges”.
The 2017 judgment dismissed two petitions — from an NGO, Campaign for Judicial Accountability and Reforms, and advocate Kamini Jaiswal — that had sought a special investigation team to probe bribery allegations against a retired Orissa High Court judge, Justice I.M. Quddusi.
The 1991 “Veeraswami judgment” had also ruled that allegations against members of the higher judiciary can only be probed with prior permission from the Chief Justice of India.
Any accusation against the Chief Justice of India has to be placed on the administrative side before the senior-most judge whose name does not figure in the allegations, it said.
So, if a formal petition is filed against Justice Gogoi, he cannot preside over the matter anyway.
Justice S.A. Bobde, the second senior-most judge after Justice Gogoi, could head the bench too.