26 Jun 2023 2:48 PM GMT
The Kerala High Court recently refused to transfer the trial in the Ranjith Sreenivasan Murder case from the Court of Additional Sessions Judge in Mavelikkara in a petition filed by persons accused in the case.The transfer petition was filed by 15 persons who are accused of murdering BJP leader and advocate Ranjith Sreenivasan on account of political rivalry. The accused are said to be...
The Kerala High Court recently refused to transfer the trial in the Ranjith Sreenivasan Murder case from the Court of Additional Sessions Judge in Mavelikkara in a petition filed by persons accused in the case.
The transfer petition was filed by 15 persons who are accused of murdering BJP leader and advocate Ranjith Sreenivasan on account of political rivalry. The accused are said to be the workers of the Socialist Democratic Party of India/Popular Front of India (SDPI/PFI).
The case of the accused person was that there was reasonable apprehension that they will not get a fair trial if the Additional Sessions Judge - I, Mavelikkara is permitted to proceed with the case.
A single bench of Justice Raja Vijayaraghavan V while dismissing the petition for transfer asked the bar and the bench to cooperate with the trial:
“The Bench and the Bar must harmoniously collaborate to ensure a fair trial, a fundamental right of all the stakeholders. In the pursuit of justice, mutual respect and cooperation between the Bench and the Bar are indispensable. Their relationship should be cordial, with each complementing the other. To fulfill the constitutional mandate, the Bench and the Bar must conduct themselves in a manner that upholds the esteemed prestige and integrity of the judiciary. Even the slightest disharmony jeopardizes the very foundation of the system, with potentially disastrous consequences.”
The Court observed that it is the duty of a counsel to cooperate whole heartedly with a trial and the duty of judicial officers to conduct themselves in a manner that does not create any perception of bias:
“We need to acknowledge that the mounting backlog of cases has stretched the dockets to their limits, creating a stressful environment for both the Bench and the Bar. The trial judge, far from being a passive arbiter, is expected to be an active participant in the process. Our courts have consistently affirmed that a trial judge who lacks the passion to unearth the truth and dispense justice becomes a liability to the system. A trial judge must remain committed to their mission within the criminal justice delivery system. Counsel defending the accused must recognize this truth and wholeheartedly cooperate with the trial. The utmost standards of propriety, decency, and self-respect must be upheld, ensuring that the courtroom never becomes a platform for disseminating hatred, discord, or dissent. The judicial officers should conduct themselves in a manner that precludes any perception of bias.”
The Court noted that the matter was initially before the Sessions Court Alappuzha, which was later transferred to the Additional District Court, Mavelikkara on the request of the accused persons stating that the Advocates of the Alappuzha Bar and the Clerks were refusing to cooperate with the trial. Specific directions were issued to the court below to complete the trial expeditiously. Later some of the accused persons approached the High Court for modification of the order contending that the lawyers in Mavelikkara were also not cooperating with the trial. However, the Court refused to further transfer the case and directed the Alappuzha Police to ensure sufficient police assistance for conducting the trial in smooth manner.
In the present transfer petition, one grievance of the Petitioners was that the Sessions Judge began the trial without fully complying with Section 207 of CrPC (Supply to the accused of copy of police report and other documents) and failed to provide the forensic reports. The Petitioners argued that despite the Court's orders, only one copy of the reports was provided. However, the Court did not agree with the Petitioners’ contention.
“I find that in the petition itself, the petitioners have admitted that one counsel was representing all the accused during the formal postings. Nothing prevented the petitioners from requesting additional copies of the report. Having appreciated the rival submissions, I am of the considered opinion that there is no error in the procedure adopted by the learned Sessions Judge,” the Court stated.
The Petitioners also raised an issue with the method adopted by the Sessions judge in identification of the accused persons by deceased's mother. However, the Court found no irregularity in the same.
The Petitioners also contended that the charge against them was altered without notice. However, the Court held that there was no irregularity in the procedure adopted by the Sessions Judge:
“under Section 216 of the Cr.P.C., the court may alter or add to any charge at any time before judgment is pronounced. The only requirement is that such alteration or addition shall be read and explained to the accused. The Code also stipulates that if the alteration or addition to a charge is such that proceeding immediately with the trial is not likely to prejudice the accused in his defense or the prosecutor in the conduct of the case, the court may, in its discretion, after such alteration or addition has been made, proceed with the trial as if the altered or added charge had been the original charge. In the case on hand, the learned Sessions Judge has followed the correct procedure, and I find no irregularity or illegality in the same.”
Another grievance raised by the accused persons was that the Sessions Judge denied adjournment of the trial despite the sudden passing of their lead counsel. The Court found some force in this contention of the Petitioners, however it concluded that this was not enough to conclude that the judge was prejudiced against the petitioners:
“The case involves the murder of a lawyer and has garnered much media attention. The learned Sessions Judge is also working under a great deal of pressure, and it is her duty to manage her court in the most efficient manner and to conclude the trial. Ideally, the learned Sessions Judge ought to have granted some more time to enable the accused to engage a new lawyer. However, that was not done. The same cannot be a reason to conclude that the learned Sessions Judge is prejudiced against the advocate," the Court observed.
The Court referred to several decisions of the Apex Court where it was held that allegations of judicial bias are required to be considered in accordance with the facts and circumstances of a particular case. The Court also observed that transfer can be allowed only when there is a well-substantiated apprehension of judicial bias.
The Court in this case did not find that there was a reasonable apprehension of bias and hence dismissed the petition for transfer.
“I find that the contention of the petitioners that the trial before the Additional Sessions Judge, Mavelikkara, may not be fair and would result in a miscarriage of justice, is misplaced and cannot be accepted. This Court is unable to infer that there is a reasonable apprehension of bias or deviation from the procedure, as alleged in the petition.”
Adv. Sunny Mathew appeared for the petitioners, ADGP Gracious Kuriakose appeared for the State, Sr. Adv. P. Vijayabhanu, appeared for the victim.
Case Title: Naisam V. The Station House Officer
Citation: 2023 LiveLaw (Ker) 291
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