Least That Is Expected From Institutions Is Not To Victimise The Survivors: Hyderabad HC Quashes Disciplinary Proceedings Against Stenographer For 'Illicit Relationship' With Sub-Judge [Read Judgment]

Least That Is Expected From Institutions Is Not To Victimise The Survivors: Hyderabad HC Quashes Disciplinary Proceedings Against Stenographer For

"It will be a contradiction in terms, to hold the Judicial Officer guilty of adopting coercive tactics to make his Steno-typist succumb to his pressure and thereafter to charge the steno-typist of complicity."

The Telangana and Andhra Pradesh High Court has quashed disciplinary proceedings against a court-stenographer allegedly for her illicit sexual relationship with a judicial officer who was acquitted by the high court in a rape case filed by her.

The bench comprising Justice V Ramasubramanian and Justice J Uma Devi criticized the observations against the ‘victim’ stenographer in the high court judgment acquitting the judicial officer, and also the initiation of disciplinary proceedings against her, and observed that the least that is expected from institutions is not to victimise the survivors, even if support services are not provided.

Background Facts

A stenographer filed a criminal complaint against a Sub-judge under whom she was working. He was convicted by the trial court under Sections 376 and 417 IPC. During the pendency of appeal, the stenographer’s application to compound the offence punishable under Section 417 IPC was allowed, and the said offence was compounded and the Judicial Officer was acquitted of the offence. The high court later acquitted the judicial officer of rape charges as well holding that the relationship was consensual.

On the basis of certain observations made in the judgment against the stenographer, departmental proceedings were initiated against her. Her initial challenge against these proceedings was dismissed by the high court. She then filed her written statement of defence to the Charge Memo. Nothing happened for 7 years. But on September 2017, she received a fresh memo. She again approached the high court.

The high court administration had proceeded against the judicial officer as well. After acquittal by the high court, though he was reinstated to service, disciplinary proceedings were initiated against him, which ended up in his dismissal. He was held guilty of sexual misconduct against the stenographer and of adopting coercive tactics.

Taking note of these factual happenings, the bench observed: “Once it is found in the enquiry held against the Judicial Officer that he was guilty of sexual misconduct against a stenographer and of adopting coercive tactics, the petitioner cannot be proceeded against for any complicity. The first charge framed against the Judicial Officer, which we have extracted above, shows that even when the writ petitioner resisted the advances made by the Judicial Officer and ran away from the chambers, the Judicial Officer accosted her to return to the chamber and threatened her with serious consequences. The third charge proved against the Judicial Officer and which we have extracted above, shows that whenever the petitioner cried, the Judicial Officer threatened her and even blackmailed the subordinate staff. Even the charges 4, 5 and 6 show that the Judicial Officer was guilty of coercion, intimidation, undue influence and enticement. Once the Judicial Administration has come to the conclusion, in the proceedings against the Judicial Officer that he was guilty of such things, none of the charges framed against the petitioner can really stand. Today, if any of the charges framed against the petitioner are to be held proved even partially, then the findings recorded against the Judicial Officer in respect of the charges listed above, would have to fall like a pack of cards.”

It is the person who is in a dominant position, who should explain his conduct in winning over the consent of the victim

The bench also criticized the high court judgment in the criminal appeal filed by the judicial officer, for its observation against the ‘victim’ stenographer.

It said: “We do not know how far the above findings will stand the scrutiny of superior Courts, when it comes to sexual harassment at workplaces. The definitions of ‘rape’ and ‘consent’ have undergone a lot of changes and it is the person who is in a dominant position, who should explain his conduct in winning over the consent of the victim. It must be remembered that the petitioner was a new recruit, having been appointed to the post of Steno-Typist in June, 1994 the alleged incidents started happening immediately thereafter. A Judicial Officer certainly holds a dominant position vis-à-vis a Steno-Typist working under him and hence the way the conduct of the petitioner came to be critically looked at by the learned Judge while dealing with the criminal appeal, leaves much to be desired.”

The court further said: “We are conscious of the fact that we are not dealing with an appeal as against the judgment of the learned Judge in the criminal appeal, that ended in the acquittal of the Judicial Officer. But we are obliged to take note of the observations in the judgment of the learned Judge which we have extracted above, since those observations have caused a collateral damage viz., that of initiation of departmental proceedings against the petitioner.”

Contradictory Approach

The bench also observed that the observations made in that judgment about the consent of the stenographer cannot form the basis for the disciplinary proceedings against her. “It is an irony that the judgment dated 14-03-2008 passed in Criminal Appeal No.971 of 2002 even while describing the petitioner herein as a victim, has paved the way for the admonition of her conduct and the initiation of disciplinary proceedings against the victim,” the bench said.

The court further added: “It will be a contradiction in terms, to hold the Judicial Officer guilty of adopting coercive tactics to make his Steno-typist succumb to his pressure and thereafter to charge the steno-typist of complicity. It is quite unfortunate that after describing the writ petitioner as a victim, the judgment of this Court in the Criminal Appeal has placed her on par with the perpetrator.”

The least that is expected institutions is not to victimise the survivors

Referring to a Madras High Court judgment, the bench said institutions are supposed to provide “Survivor Support Services”. “The least that is expected institutions is not to victimise the survivors, even if support services are not provided,” it said.

Quashing the disciplinary proceedings, the court held that the very initiation of the disciplinary proceedings against the stenographer is completely misconceived. “The reluctance on the part of the administration, after the issue of the charge memo in the year 2009, to proceed with the enquiry till the year 2017, is understandable and justified. But the reluctance ought to have got converted into a bold step in aborting the proceedings,” the bench said.