Kathua gangrape: Fair trial a ‘real concern’, says SC, hints at shifting case out of Jammu

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New Delhi, April 26: The Supreme Court on Thursday hinted at the possibility of moving the Kathua gangrape case out of Jammu, saying it’s a “real concern” to see that a fair trial is conducted.
“Fair trial is the consideration and we are concerned with the interest of victim and accused… If we find the slightest possibility of a lack of a fair trial, we will transfer the case out of Kathua,” the top court said.
The Supreme Court’s statement came after the Bar Council of India (BCI)?said the lawyers’ body in the district had neither obstructed the Jammu and Kashmir Police Crime Branch from filing the chargesheet nor the advocate from representing the victim’s family. 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.
On January 10, an eight-year-old girl from a minority nomadic community had disappeared from near her home in a village near Kathua in Jammu region. Her body was found in the same area a week later.
The Crime Branch, which probed the case, filed the main chargesheet against seven persons – including two policemen – and a separate chargesheet against a juvenile in a court in Kathua district earlier in April. The chargesheet revealed chilling details about how the girl was allegedly kidnapped, drugged and raped inside a temple before being killed.
The bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra and justices AM Khanwilkar and DY Chandrachud said the trial should be fair not only for the accused but also for the victim’s family, and the protection to them and their lawyers should be ensured.
It also ruled out a CBI probe and said it should be circumspect while transferring it to another agency.
On the issue of alleged obstruction by lawyers in the administration of justice in the case, the bench said: “If the lawyers are at fault, they would be dealt in accordance with the law.”
The matter will be next heard on July 30.
The court was considering the plea of the accused, Sanji Ram and Vishal Jangotra, that they be impleaded as parties to the petition filed by the rape victim’s father.
The eight-year-old’s father had moved the apex court earlier, apprehending a threat to the family, a friend and their lawyer Deepika Singh Rajawat.
Expressing satisfaction with the probe conducted by the Jammu and Kashmir police in the case, the father had also sought a transfer of the trial from Kathua court to Chandigarh.
However, the accused are asking for the opposite, seeking a CBI probe and a trial in Kathua district itself.
Appearing for the state, advocate Shoeb Alam opposed the BCI’s report and maintained that the police team was heckled, allegedly by lawyers, due to which they could not file the chargesheet in the trial court.
Alam told the bench that the report of the BCI cannot be relied upon since no Crime Branch officers, who were allegedly obstructed by agitating lawyers at Kathua, were heard.
He pointed to the report of the high court and drew attention to a separate report of a district judge in Kathua and claimed that the report gives scathing finding of the “obstruction” of officers and justice administration system.
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. 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 bench said. (PTI)