A trial court in Kerala has restrained the print and electronic media from publishing any matter relating to the in-camera proceedings in the trial of the nun-rape case, in which Franco Mulakkal, a bishop of Roman Catholic Church, is the prime accused.
The Court has also barred discussions about the evidence tendered by the witnesses without such previous permission.
The Court observed that creating a strong public opinion against a person facing trial "severely affects the presumption of innocence available to the him".
"A criminal trial shall as far as possible be made free from all sources of pre-judging, outside the due process of law. Any widespread perception of guilt or innocence, without any objective evaluation of the materials available is nothing but a threat to fair trial", observed G Gopakumar, Additional Sessions Judge-I, Kottayam in the order.
Stating so, the court invoked powers under Section 327(3) of the Code of Criminal Procedure, which enables the court to pass such restraint orders, when a trial is proceeding in-camera.
Section 327(2) of the CrPC mandates that the trial of a rape case should be held in-camera, in private without access to the public and the media.
The order was passed on a petition by Mulakkal alleging that the prosecution had leaked to the media a part of the 161 Statement of a witness before the preliminary start of the case and the media had started a discussion pertaining to various aspects of it.
Last month, the Supreme Court had dismissed a plea filed by Franco Mulakkal, Bishop of Jalandhar diocese of Roman Catholic Church, seeking discharge from the case. Earlier, the trial court and the High Court had dismissed his discharge petitions, after observing that there was prima facie evidence to put the case to trial.
Mulakkal is accused of raping a nun on multiple occasions during the period 2014- 2016 by abusing his dominant position. Allegations surfaced for the first time in July 2018 when a collective called "Save Our Sisters" launched public protests calling for the arrest of Franco. Later, the Special Investigation Team of Kerala police submitted the charge-sheet against him for offences punishable under Sections 342, 376 (2)(k) and (n), 377, and 506 (I) IPC.