Supreme Court has issued notice to its Gender Sensitization and Internal Complaints Redressal Committee (GSICC) the 10-member panel constituted on November 26, 2013 as per the Vishaka guidelines to deal with complaints of sexual harassment on its premises, on a petition filed by women lawyers alleging that incidents of molestation inside the court premises were on the rise.
Supreme Court Women Lawyer’s Association (SCWLA), the petitioners, want the GSICC to be more “pro-active active and effective” to curb such incidents.
The trigger was the incident on the evening of June 29, 2015 when the attention of all in the crowded courtroom no.4 of the Supreme Court was riveted on the judges deciding the fate of Mumbai serial blasts convict Yakub Memon, a young, polished well known lawyer standing on the rear of the courtroom misused the congestion to molest a lady lawyer and an intern.
According to the Association, this was just one of several similar occurrences within the premises of the apex court in the recent times.
“We ourselves have received five to six complaints in the last one year. But in all these cases the complainant later withdrew the complaint after settling it with the accused. The aggrieved lady advocate in each case somehow did not want to pursue the matter further”, says Prerna Kumari , Secretary of the SCWLA.
A concerned SCWLA has now filed a petition in the Supreme Court seeking a direction to the Supreme Court Gender Sensitization and Internal Complaints Redressal Committee (GSICC) the 10-member panel constituted on November 26, 2013 as per the Vishaka guidelines to deal with complaints of sexual harassment on its premises, to be more “pro-active active and effective” to curb such incidents.
“The committee should be more vigilant and accessible to lawyers, and should also suo motu take cognizance of incidents whereby it can be m ore effective and have a deterrent effect “, says Kumari.
A bench of justice V Gopala Gowda and justice Adarsh Kumar Goel admitted the plea and issued notice to the GSICC headed by justice R Bhanumathi, the only woman judge in SC.
The formation of the panel, which was pending since 1997 Vishaka verdict of the SC, was finally constituted after the sexual harassment complaint involving former SC judge AK Ganguly came to light.
But as per the reports posted on SC website under signature of GSICC Member Secretary Rachna Gupta, the committee had received just two complaints in the last two years from lady lawyers
In both cases the accused were let off lightly. While the punishment for one accused lawyer was just an admonition, in the second case, the molester advocate was barred from entering the apex court premises for six months.
The maximum punishment the committee could give as per the rules was debarment of the molester lawyer for a year from SC premises and recommending the Bar Council of India to lodge a criminal case against the advocate.
SCWLA’s application came in a case where it had moved a petition seeking ban on two lawyers M.L. Sharma and A.P. Singh, the defence lawyers in the December 16 gang-rape case from entering the apex court premises for their derogatory remarks against Nirbhaya and women in general in the BBC documentary ‘India’s Daughter’.
“The ignominy and direct attack on the dignity of women, especially women lawyers practising in the Supreme Court who have suffered due to the statements made and publicised by two male lawyers, especially the respondent no. 1 (M.L. Sharma) who regularly practises in the Supreme Court...comments have caused a sense of insecurity, indignation and fear amongst the female lawyers practising in the SC,” their petition read.
The SCWLA has sought framing of a policy for safe and decent placement of female junior members of the Supreme Court bar association (SCBA), creation of a conducive and equal working environment for female members of the SCBA. It also wanted sensitization of members of the bar with regard to proper and correct behavioral pattern towards women and framing of rrules for implementing sanctions against improper and sexually colored behavior towards female members in the precincts of supreme court
The SCWLA has also sought a direction to the GSICC to disclose complete records of all the activities carried out by it since date of its inception, members sensitized with respect to gender issues and meetings held for improvement of overall environment for women within SC premises. It also wanted the committee to maintain a list of all lady lawyers regularly practicing in the supreme court and a request to GSICC “not to abdicate from performing their functions under the constitution and its own regulations”
Women Lawyers Association demands: