January 18, 2022

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Supreme Court frowns upon ‘trend’ of acquittals in workplace sex misconduct cases on hyper-technical grounds

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Supreme Court frowns upon ‘trend’ of acquittals in workplace sex misconduct cases on hyper-technical grounds
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Supreme Court frowns upon ‘trend’ of acquittals in workplace sex misconduct cases on hyper-technical grounds
Supreme Court frowns upon ‘trend’ of acquittals in workplace sex misconduct cases on hyper-technical grounds

NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Friday expressed concern over “a rising trend” of courts invalidating proceedings into sexual misconduct at working place on “hyper-technical” grounds saying that it would defeat the law and would turn judicial process into a punishment for the victim.
“We implore courts to interpret service rules and statutory regulations governing the prevention of sexual harassment at the workplace in a manner that metes out procedural and substantive justice to all the parties,” a bench of Justices D Y Chandrachud and A S Bopanna said while seting aside the order of Calcutta High Court which had acquitted a BSF personnel from charge of commiting sodomy on his subordinate on the ground that the order of Commandant for preparing an additional RoE (Record of Evidence) was beyond jurisdiction. The HC had set aside an order passed by Summary Security Force Court which held him guilty.
The apex court said that the approach of HC was “callous” in this case as there was sufficient evidence against the accused. It said that the HC was incorrect in its interpretation of the jurisdiction of the Commandant and the obligation of the SSFC to furnish reasons under the BSF Act.
“…we would also like to highlight a rising trend of invalidation of proceedings inquiring into sexual misconduct, on hyper-technical interpretations of the applicable service rules. For instance, the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition, and Redressal) Act 2013 penalizes several misconducts of a sexual nature and imposes a mandate on all public and private organizations to create adequate mechanisms for redressal. However, the existence of transformative legislation may not come to the aid of persons aggrieved of sexual harassment if the appellate mechanisms turn the process into a punishment,” the bench said.
“It is important that courts uphold the spirit of the right against sexual harassment, which is vested in all persons as a part of their right to life and right to dignity under Article 21 of the Constitution. It is also important to be mindful of the power dynamics that are mired in sexual harassment at the workplace,” the bench said.
The court said there was discrepancy regarding the date of occurrence in this case but it was minor in nature since the event occurred soon after midnight and on the next day.
“Deeming such a trivial aspect to be of monumental relevance, while invalidating the entirety of the disciplinary proceedings against the respondent and reinstating him to his position renders the complainant‘s remedy at nought. The history of legal proceedings such as these is a major factor that contributes to the deterrence that civil and criminal mechanisms pose to persons aggrieved of sexual harassment,” it said.

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