People participate in a protest in New Delhi against the Kathua and Unnao rape cases.(HT file photo)
People participate in a protest in New Delhi against the Kathua and Unnao rape cases.(HT file photo)

Fair trial in Kathua gangrape a ‘concern’, says SC, hints at case transfer

Supreme Court said the Kathua gangrape and murder trial should be fair not only for the accused but also for the victim’s family. It has also ruled out a CBI probe.
By HT Correspondent | Hindustan Times, New Delhi
UPDATED ON APR 26, 2018 11:04 PM IST

The Supreme Court on Thursday indicated that it might move the case of an eight-year-old girl’s gang rape and murder out of Jammu’s Kathua in case it concludes that a fair trial of the suspects is not possible there.

“Fair trial is the consideration and we are concerned with the interest of the victim and accused. If we find the slightest possibility of a lack of a fair trial, we will transfer the case out of Kathua,” a bench led by Chief Justice Dipak Misra said.

The assurance was held out when senior advocate Indira Jaising opposed the Jammu and Kashmir High Court Bar Association’s claim that its members had never prevented Deepika Singh Rajawat, lawyer for the victim’s family, from appearing in HC.

The association made this assertion in an affidavit it filed in response to the suo motu (Latin for ‘on its own’) cognisance taken by the top court of media reports that Rajawat was blocked from appearing in the HC. The SC bench is also seized of another petition filed by the victim’s father, who wants the case to be transferred out of Jammu. The matter will be heard on Friday; the court wants to know the stand of the J&K government on the plea.

Justice Misra said a trial should be fair not only for the accused, but also for the victim’s family, and protection to them and their lawyers must be ensured. The court ruled out a CBI probe as demanded by lawyers of the accused and the Kathua bar association that has been accused of heckling a police team when it went to file a charge sheet on April 9. “We should be circumspect while transferring the case to another agency. And why should we suspect the police investigation. Also, the charge sheet has been filed in this case,” the CJI told the lawyers who had come from Jammu.

Meanwhile, a fact-finding committee sent by Bar Council of India (BCI) to Kathua and Jammu submitted its report to the court, giving a clean chit to lawyers who allegedly obstructed the police from submitting its charge sheet.

It also said the demand of the J&K High Court Bar Association and Jammu and Kathua District Bar Association for a CBI probe appeared to be justified. BCI is the apex disciplinary body regulating the legal profession and education in the country.

On January 10, an eight-year-old girl from a minority nomadic community had disappeared from near her home in a village in Kathua. Her body was found in the same area a week later. The police charge sheet filed against seven suspects provided elaborate details of a plot to kidnap, rape and murder the child, who belonged to the nomadic Bakarwal community.

BCI’s report is contrary to a state government report. State counsel Shoeb Alam urged the court not to rely on it, saying none of the panel ‘s members spoke to the police officials who were allegedly obstructed by the lawyers in Kathua.

Alam also drew the court’s attention to the Jammu and Kashmir high court’s affidavit that referred to district judge’s (Kathua) report ,confirming the incident. “It (DJ’s report) gives scathing finding of the “obstruction” of officers and justice administration system,” he said.

Alam pleaded that the two petitions related to the alleged misconduct of the lawyers and the prayer of the eight-year-old’s father seeking transfer of the case to Chandigarh be kept separate to ensure that the matter is not sensationalised.

“Let the main issue be not missed,” the bench said. “Fair investigation, fair trial, appropriate legal guidance and representation of both the accused and the victim’s family has to be there...Instead of getting into what the BCI report says and the lawyers say, let us not digress from the real issue. The real issue is that how can we achieve justice.” The court fixed July 23 for hearing the suo motu case against alleged misbehaviour by lawyers.

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