Details of the Complaint
A lady trainee filed a complaint of sexual harassment against a guest instructor (referred to as respondent hereafter) to the Inquiry Committee of the organization. The Inquiry Committee, in its inquiry, found that the respondent was guilty. The evidence used by the Inquiry Committee were the statement of the complainant and circumstantial evidence received from testimonies of people who were part of the journey during which the alleged incident has taken place.
Respondent Appealed against the Inquiry Committee’s Findings
The respondent, unhappy by the Inquiry Committee’s report, filed appeals in the appropriate tribunals. However, the appeals were dismissed. Finally, the respondent filed an appeal with the High Court of Uttarakhand. The argument of the respondent was that Inquiry Committee relied solely on the testimony of the complainant to take an action in the absence of other solid evidence and this is not sufficient to take an action against him.
To know more about conducting a departmental inquiry in the absence of evidence, read this blog.
There is No Reason Not to Accept the Sole Testimony of a Victim of Sexual Harassment
The Honourable court observed that statement of the victim is necessary and sufficient in criminal cases of sexual harassment. Same way, the sole testimony of the victim is sufficient in a departmental inquiry as well.
“In cases involving sexual harassment, molestation, etc. the Criminal Court is duty-bound to deal corroboration with such cases with utmost sensitivity. Evidence of the victim of sexual assault is enough for conviction, and it does not require any corroboration unless there are compelling reasons for seeking. The Criminal Court may, however, look for some assurance of her statement to satisfy its judicial conscience.”
“As the sole testimony of a prosecutrix, in a criminal case involving sexual harassment and molestation, would suffice if it is otherwise reliable, there is no justifiable reason not to accept the sole testimony of a victim, of sexual harassment and molestation, in a departmental inquiry as the enquiry held by a domestic Tribunal is not, unlike a Criminal Court, governed by the strict and technical rules of the Evidence Act.”
The court also implied that since the complainant and the respondent were not acquainted before, it is highly unlikely for the complainant to give a false testimony.
“The Enquiry Committee has held that, before this incident, the petitioner and the complainant were not even personally acquainted with each other, and the petitioner’s claim, of the complaint having been instituted for extraneous considerations, was not tenable. In such circumstances, we see no reason why the Enquiry Committee should be faulted for largely relying on the testimony of the complainant. The contentions urged on behalf of the petitioner, under this head, necessitate rejection.”
Major Observations by the Court
The court comments that the sole testimony of the victim of sexual harassment is sufficient in a departmental inquiry. This is because the standard of proof used in departmental inquiry is preponderance of probabilities.
“As the sole testimony of a prosecutrix, in a criminal case involving sexual harassment and molestation, would suffice if it is otherwise reliable, there is no justifiable reason not to accept the sole testimony of a victim, of sexual harassment and molestation, in a departmental inquiry as the enquiry held by a domestic Tribunal is not, unlike a Criminal Court, governed by the strict and technical rules of the Evidence Act. (Murlidhar Jena2).
A disciplinary proceeding is not a criminal trial. The standard of proof required is that of preponderance of probabilities, and not proof beyond reasonable doubt.”
The court also remarked that the complainant in a sexual harassment is a competent witness.
“A woman, who is the victim of a sexual assault, is not an accomplice to the crime but is a victim of another man’s lust. The Indian Evidence Act does not state that her evidence cannot be accepted unless it is corroborated in material particulars. She is, undoubtedly, a competent witness under Section 118 thereof. The same degree of care and caution must attach in the evaluation of her evidence as in the case of an injured complainant or witness and no more.“
Reference: Bhuwan Chandra Pandey vs Union Of India And Others on 15 June, 2020