“To flirt with a junior official is not acceptable conduct for a judge,” the Supreme Court on Tuesday observed while hearing an appeal of a retired district judge against the Madhya Pradesh High Court’s decision to order an “in-house departmental inquiry” against him on sexual harassment allegations from a junior judicial officer.
The top court, however, took note of the submission of the counsel of the former judge that it (sexual harassment allegations) all had started only when he was in consideration for elevation as a High Court justice.
“This is a ubiquitous phenomenon to raise complaints… all kinds of allegations are levelled in such cases,” a bench headed by Chief Justice S.A. Bobde said, adding that, however, the issue before it was whether the High Court was empowered to order the departmental inquiry.
The bench, also comprising justices A.S. Bopanna and V. Ramasubramanian, took note of the WhatsApp messages of the former judicial officer referred to by the counsel for the High Court Registrar and said that they were quite “offensive”.
“To flirt with a junior official is not an acceptable conduct for a judge,” it said, adding that if such behaviour is permitted, then the work atmosphere cannot remain conducive for judicial work.
“We find the WhatsApp messages quite offensive and improper,” the bench said and suggested that the former judge should withdraw his appeal against the High Court’s order and face the inquiry.
The bench said it did not want to further hear the matter, and the High Court was always competent to order the departmental inquiry and the former judicial officer must face it. Senior advocate R. Balasubramanium, appearing for the former judge, said that the woman officer had withdrawn her complaint under the Prevention of Sexual Harassment Act and, hence, the disciplinary proceedings by the High Court are not maintainable.
However, the apex court said the complainant might have withdrawn the complaint because of “some embarrassment”, but it will not preclude the High Court from initiating separate departmental proceedings.
The Supreme Court has now posted the matter after a week at the request of the counsel for the former judge.