The Women in Criminal Law Association on Saturday demanded an inquiry “at the earliest” into the sexual harassment allegation against Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi and said he should not hold office during the process. The group distanced itself from the statement by Bar Council of India, which had called the allegation “false and cooked up”.A 35-year-old woman who used to work as a junior court assistant at the Supreme Court wrote to 22 judges of the court on Friday, alleging that Gogoi had made sexual advances on her at his residence office in October 2018. The woman said that after she rebuffed the chief justice, she was moved out of his residence office, where she had been posted in August 2018. Two months later, she was dismissed from service. One of the three grounds for dismissal, as detailed in the inquiry report, was that she had taken casual leave for one day without approval.The Supreme Court constituted a special bench on the “independence of the judiciary”, to sit immediately to address the matter on Saturday. Gogoi, who has denied the allegation, claimed that the judiciary was under serious threat but that the matter would be considered by senior judges of the court. The judges said an appropriate bench would hear the charges against Gogoi.In its statement, the Women in Criminal Law Association said: “Even before the allegations properly came to light, the stated purpose of the sitting sought to change the conversation.”Over 700 people have endorsed the statement so far. “We believe that the complaint should be treated as per procedure and principles of fairness and justice, including the fundamental right to equality before law,” the statement said. It further said: “The said procedure must be in accordance with the in-house procedure applicable to the judges of the Supreme Court and the letter and spirit of the POSH Act [Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013], the Supreme Court Sexual Harassment Regulations, 2013 and service rules if applicable.”The complainant should have the utmost opportunity to present her case, as must the respondent to present his defence, the statement said. “It is our opinion that, due to the immense disparity in power and position, the Hon’ble Chief Justice of India cannot continue to hold office during the inquiry,” it added. The group said: “Needless to say, the inquiry must take place at the earliest and with unimpeachable and transparent process in order to preserve the dignity of our Apex Court. To this end, the Complainant must be protected from all coercive action and online harassment during the pendency of the inquiry.”The statement also said that “to preserve neutrality and fairness”, such an inquiry should not involve the judges who were part of the sitting on Saturday, the court’s Secretary General, and Attorney General and Solicitor General. “Furthermore, the record of proceedings or ‘order’ of the day (which does not reflect the presence or submissions of the Chief Justice) ought to be corrected to reflect the true constitution and purpose of the bench,” the statement said.

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