New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Monday ordered shifting of seven accused in sensational Kathua gangrape and murder case of a minor girl from the Kathua district jail in Jammu and Kashmir to a prison in Punjab’s Gurdaspur town, referring to “exceptional circumstances”.
The top court rejected the objections raised by the Government of India (GoI) and the lawyers representing the accused over the shifting and said their transfer was being done due to “exceptional circumstances”.
A bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices D Y Chandrachud and Indu Malhotra also accepted a status report in the case filed by the Jammu and Kashmir government.
The apex court, which passed a series of directions, asked the J&K government to file a supplementary charge sheet in the case within eight weeks.
It directed the Punjab and the J&K government to provide adequate security to the trial court judge and public prosecutors in the case respectively.
The top court modified its earlier direction that no other court will entertain any petition regarding the case. It also granted liberty to the accused and the kin of the victim to approach Punjab and Haryana High Court if they are aggrieved by any trial court order.
The bench also asked the district and sessions court judge at Pathankot to observe full-court in-camera trial in which only the judge, the lawyers representing the accused, public prosecutors and court staff will be present during the proceedings.
During the hearing, Additional Solicitor General Maninder Singh, representing the GoI, opposed the transfer of the accused from Kathua district jail to Gurdaspur.
“The accused have to be served a notice before shifting them to some other jail. There are judgements of apex court in this regard. This can’t be done straightaway. They need to be given a chance to present their case,” Singh said.
The counsel for some accused said it will be difficult for the family members of the accused to visit Gurdaspur which was more than the distance between Kathua and Pathankot where the trial is underway.
The victim, an eight-year-old girl from a minority nomadic community, had disappeared from near her home in a village close to Kathua in the Jammu region on January 10. Her body was found in the same area a week later.
At the outset on Monday, senior advocate Shekhar Naphade and standing counsel Shoeb Alam, appearing for J&K government, submitted a status report with regard to the case. They pointed out that as many as seven lawyers each were accompanying the accused inside the court room during the day to day trial in the case.
“Presence of so many lawyers on behalf of accused was detrimental to fair trial as witnesses who were appearing before the trial judge for recording of their statements may feel threatened. At a given time there were nearly 50 lawyers present in the court to defend the accused in the case. This defeats the very purpose of in-camera trial,” Naphade said.
He demanded that “the court should allow recording of statement and cross-examination of accused through video-conferencing”.
The bench, however, said there was no need for video-conferencing and added that the J&K government will bear the expenses for the commutation of family members of the accused to Gurdaspur.
Senior advocate Indira Jaising, appearing for the father of the victim, Mohd Akhtar demanded that the accused should be shifted to Gurdaspur from Kathua district jail due to inadequate security in the jail premises and there was the possibility of the accused fleeing in transit the jail and the court.
She said that Gurdaspur jail was closer to the Pathankot district court than Kathua jail and this would result in increase in effective time for trial.
Jaising said if the accused, including the two police officers, remain in Kathua jail then they may have a chance to influence the witnesses despite being in prison.
The state police have filed the main charge sheet against seven persons and a separate charge sheet against a juvenile in a court in Kathua district.
On May 7, the apex court had transferred the trial from Jammu and Kashmir to Pathankot in Punjab, but refrained from handing over the probe to CBI saying there was no need as the investigation has been conducted and the charge sheet filed.
It had ordered day-to-day in-camera trial and said there was a need to shift the trial outside the state as “fear and fair trial” were contradictory and “cannot be allowed to co-exist.”