Rape Accused Has No Right To Demand In-Camera Hearing : Supreme Court Dismisses Tarun Tejpal's Plea
Supreme Court bench comprising Chief Justice DY Chandrachud and Justice PS Narasimha on Monday, dismissed Journalist Tarun Tejpal's plea for in-camera hearing in rape case appeal.
Tejpal, co-founder and former Editor-in-Chief of Tehelka Magazine was accused of forcing himself on his junior colleague inside an elevator of the Grand Hyatt, Bambolim, Goa on November 7 and 8, 2013, during the magazine's official event - the THINK 13 festival. He was acquitted of all charges on May 21 by a fast track court in Mapusa, Goa. In her 527-page judgement, Special Judge Kshama Joshi had extensively commented on the woman's non-rape victim like behaviour and faulty investigation to grant Tejpal the benefit of the doubt. Thereafter, Tejpal had moved an application to Bombay High Court under Section 327 CrPC for conducting hearings through in-camera proceedings against his acquittal in a 2013 rape case. When the Bombay High Court rejected his application, he moved Supreme Court regarding the same.
At the very outset, CJI Chandrachud stated–
"Ultimately, the objective of Section 327 is to protect the rights of the victim. The idea is to protect the victim so that she can depose fearlessly. When somebody who is an accused, will they have the remedy when the victim does not demand?"
"The provision says that the enquiry which leads up to the trial will be in camera. We have crossed that stage. There is no vested right. The accused has no right to demand", CJI said.
The petitioner contented that Article 21 would have to be read in Section 327(2) of the Code, inasmuch as, the applicant's right to privacy and reputation is infringed, if "in camera" hearing is not afforded to the applicant in the present proceedings.
Section 327 (2) of the CrPC provides that the inquiry into and trial of rape or an offence under section 376, section 376A, section 376B, section 376C or section 376D of the Indian Penal Code shall be conducted in camera, Provided that the presiding judge may, if he thinks fit, or on an application made by either of the parties, allow any particular person to have access to, or be or remain in, the room or building used by the court.
The petitioner submitted–
"The provision has been to protect the proceedings. It is not to protect the prosecutrix. The section itself does not bring in the element that it is only to protect the prosecutrix or the manner in which the testimony is held. What happens in society today is that false cases are filed. There are cases in which intimate relationship, where even the defence may raise questions on the relationship. There may be cases where there is a charge of abetment where a male or a female may be accused. Section 372 covers the entire proceedings, not just the proceedings."
Senior Advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for Tejpal, added–
"The allegations are prima facie false. My reputation is at stake. This is a very important issue. The WhatsApp messages etc will be revealed. Identity of victim will also be released. It's not in anybody's interest. After Puttaswamy, this has to be considered. There is privacy, reputation involved. Atleast this much you should allow that it shouldn't be a virtual hearing. The judge is saying it'll be a virtual hearing. Please don't allow."
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the State of Goa, argued–
"The judge had revealed the name of the victim in the judgment and it is an encyclopaedia as to how the victim should behave in such situations."
The bench, while dismissing the petition, left it to the High Court to decide whether to hear the appeal virtually or physically.
Case Title: Tarun Tejpal v State of Goa SLP(Crl)No. 9769/2021