“There is a need to engage in how the Vishaka guidelines, which deal with sexual harassment in the workplace, should be made applicable to the judiciary,” said former chief justice of Delhi High Court, Justice A.P. Shah at the 27th Rosalind Wilson Memorial Lecture on Sunday.
The former chief justice said the “immediate trigger” for his choice of subject for the speech was the sexual harassment allegations raised by a Supreme Court employee against Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi. “I did not want to pass judgment on the truth or falsity of the sexual harassment allegations, but they were “certain stark facts that stand out which demand consideration”, he added.
“Judges do not have any pre-set moral codes embedded in their brains that dictate their behaviour the moment they sit on the bench. Indeed, they are as human as the lawyers, plaintiffs, defendants, criminals, witnesses and police before them. To attribute a greater morality to them merely because of the nature of their office is false and dangerous. They must be constantly reminded of what is appropriate behaviour throughout their career so that the role that is cast upon them — of administering impartial justice — is never compromised. For that is the only and ultimate goal of the judiciary,” he said.
“Critically, in all this, the Chief Justice cannot be made an exception to the procedure, as unfortunately is the case today. Any accountability mechanism must apply to all judges, regardless of status or rank. The law and the procedure must also engage with how the Vishakha guidelines can be made applicable to the judiciary, the extent to which the right to information is allowed, and so on,” he explained.
Justice Shah called for a new and more detailed code of conduct guiding judicial behaviour and a streamlined process for regular performance evaluation of judges.