Justice Vaidyanathan withdraws controversial comments on misuse of women protection laws

Meera Emmanuel August 22 2019

Following opposition registered by a section of lawyers, Justice S Vaidyanathan of the Madras High Court has stated that he will delete contentious paragraphs in his August 13 order passed in the Madras Christian College sexual harassment case.

The controversial observations concern comments that women protection laws are prone to misuse and should be amended to safeguard the interest of "innocent masculinity."  The judge had observed,

"Certain laws, which are in existence for easy access to women, lend itself to easy misuse that women will find it hard to resist the temptation to “teach a lesson” to the male members and will file frivolous and false cases. A similar trend is already being observed in the case of anti-dowry law (498-A), which is being misused to such an extent that the Supreme Court has termed it “Legal Terrorism”...

...This is the right time for the Government to think of suitable amendment in those [women protection] laws in order to prevent its misuse so as to safeguard the interest of the innocent masculinity too."

Senior Advocate R Vaigai yesterday mentioned the issue before Justice Vaidyanathan, expressing concern over the sweeping allegations made against women by his contentious observations in paragraphs 33 to 35 of the August 13 order.

In response, Justice Vaidyanathan agreed to post the matter today. He said today that the contentious paragraphs would be deleted from the order and that an amended order would be issued instead.

The development came days after the judge withdrew his observations on generalised concerns regarding the safety of students in Christian educational institutions. This, after the counsel of the MCC submitted that the comments were irrelevant to the case decided and that they would be highly detrimental to the interest of all Christian-run institutions.

In the meanwhile, a letter endorsed by 64 lawyers was addressed to Chief Justice VK Tahilramani, expressing concern that Justice Vaidyanathan's critical observations concerning Christian-run educations and women amounted to a  transgression of judicial discipline which would set an alarming precedent.

The August 21 letter states,

"The observations of the judge on both the subjects amount to transgression of judicial discipline because once a case is decided, a judge ceases to have jurisdiction to express opinion in accuses that did not arise in the case...

...This may set an alarming precedent that any judicial officer can, without recourse to due process of law and fair hearing, pass any order on any issue, without the necessity of following mandatory procedural safeguards."

In this backdrop, the letter had also expressed concern that this is not an isolated instance where the Court has expressed opinion beyond the limits of the case at hand. It was noted,

"This dangerous trend of judges giving free rein to express all their opinions in a Court room or a public meeting or a gathering, without any restrain, can erode the credibility of the judicial institution and has been deprecated by Courts...

...The Bangalore Principles of Judicial Conduct mandate that a judge shall perform his or her judicial duties without any a favour, bias, or prejudice and ensure that his or her conduct, both in and out of court, maintains and enhances the confidence of the public, the legal profession and litigants in the impartiality of the judge and the judiciary." 

Registering concern that the controversial observations  in the August 13 order amount to an abuse of office, propagation of communal hatred, and judicial bias, the lawyers had also requested that no litigation concerning women or religious community-run institutions be taken up by Justice Vaidyanathan.

It was noted that even if the controversial comments were withdrawn, it would not erase the impact already caused to the society, since judgments are pronounced in open court and widely reported. In this regard, several public comments made were also attached to the letter for the Chief Justice's perusal.

Bar & Bench is available on WhatsApp. For real-time updates on stories, Click here to subscribe to our WhatsApp.