The Allahabad High Court on Friday issued a slew of directions on Friday to secure the safety of the trial and the witnesses and lawyers in the Hathras gang rape and murder case (In re: Right to Decent & Dignified Last Rites).
The directions were passed by a Bench of Justices Rajan Roy and Jaspreet Singh after the victim’s brother alleged that an unruly mob which included lawyers barged into the trial court during the proceedings and intimidated the witnesses and the complainant’s counsel eventually forcing the trial judge to halt the proceedings.
An application was filed in this regard by advocate Sharad Bhatnagar on behalf of the victim’s brother supported by an affidavit seeking certain interim directions.
The Bench besides ordering the trial to be held in-camera for the time being also sought a status report from the District Judge, Hathras and the Inspector General, CRPF Central Sector regarding the veracity of the allegations.
The Court also made it clear that any attempt to disturb the proceedings before the trial court or threaten the victim’s family or witnesses would be met with severe action.
The order was passed in a case initiated suo moto in December 2020 with respect to the unfortunate incident in which the 19-year-old girl, who was gang raped and murdered in Hathras, was allegedly cremated by the State Police without permitting the family members access to the dead body.
The affidavit by Victim’s brother
The High Court in its order explained the contents of the affidavit.
As per the same, when the trial proceedings were ongoing before the Special Court at Hathras, on March 5, 2021, an advocate named Tarun Hari Sharma, stormed into the court room, and charged towards the applicant and the complainant counsel, shouting and issuing threats.
“Amongst the barrage of threats extended to the complainant Advocate Seema Kushwaha, he stated that in this case the complainant counsel could not represent the victim’s family. It has been stated that when he aggressively approached them, it was evident that he was under the influence of alcohol,” the High Court order said quoting the affidavit.
At the same time, a large mob, including lawyers, entered the courtroom and surrounded the applicant and the complainant’s counsel in order to threaten and intimidate them, it added.
Due to these the judge was forced to stop the trial proceedings.
After some time the proceedings were resumed when another Advocate namely Hari Sharma who, as alleged, is the father of advocate Tarun Hari Sharma, entered the courtroom and he issued threats to the complainant’s counsel, the High Court order noted based on the applicant’s affidavit.
In these circumstances, the Presiding Officer was forced to stop the proceedings again.
The affidavit further said that the presiding judge, acknowledging threat to Seema Kushwaha ordered the Station House Officer of Police Station Kotwali to provide safe and secure passage to her and to drop her at the Hathras border.
“It is only then that the counsel was able to leave Hathras district court premises and thereafter she has been unable to appear before the concerned court due to the risk to her safety and security,” the order said relying on the affidavit.
High Court directions
The High Court after taking note of the submissions on affidavit ordered the District Judge, Hathras to inquire as to whether any such incident as alleged in the affidavit had occurred or not on March 5.
“The District Judge shall before preparing such report go through CCTV Cameras, if any, installed in the court premises. The report shall be made available to the Senior Registrar of this Court at Lucknow within 15 days,” the Court ordered.
The Court also ordered the Inspector General, CRPF Central Sector, Lucknow to collect information in this regard from his personnel who had been deputed for security of the victim’s family and who, in all probability, must have accompanied the family to the trial court, as to whether any such incident, as narrated in the affidavit took place.
In the meantime, till the next date of listing of the present petition before the High Court, whenever the trial is fixed before the trial court, the State government and the district authorities should make all possible arrangements for security and smooth conduct of the trial within the court premises and outside it, the Court directed.
Importantly, it ordered the trial court judge to conduct the proceedings in- camera in keeping with the letter and spirit of Section 327 Cr.P.C for the time being.
The District Judge has to ensure that the trial is allowed to be conducted before the Court concerned in a free and fair manner without any outside hindrance, the Court said.
“We also make it clear that if any person who is stranger to the trial as also anyone who may be involved in the trial, tries to disturb the proceedings before the Trial Court or in any manner attempts to threaten the life, liberty and property of the victim’s family and the witnesses, we would be taking severe action against such person including contempt proceedings under the Contempt of Court’s Act, 1971 read with Section 215 of the Constitution of India,” the Court added.
Advocates Sharad Bhatnagar and Seema Kushwaha appeared for the victim’s brother. CBI was represented by advocate Anurag Singh, Senior Advocate SV Raju and Additional Advocate General VK Sahi appeared for the State while Senior Advocate Jaideep Narayan Mathur was the Amicus Curiae in this case.
The matter will be heard again on April 7.