The Supreme Court directed shifting of seven accused in the Kathua gangrape and murder case from Kathua in Jammu and Kashmir to Gurdaspur in Punjab so that trial in the case is not held up due to their unavailability.
On the orders of the top court the accused are being tried at a sessions court in Pathankot, Punjab. The order to move out the accused to Gurdaspur was given after the court was told that the travel time between the city and Pathankot is less than time taken from Kathua.
A three-judge Bench headed by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra passed the order without issuing any notice to the accused, despite Additional Solicitor General Maninder Singh pointing out that procedural norms required the court to hear them.
An eight-year-old girl from a nomadic community had disappeared from near her home in Kathua on January 10. Her body was found in the same locality a week later. Seven accused were later arrested for sexually assaulting the minor and murdering her. The Crime Branch of Jammu and Kashmir Police took up the probe and filed a chargesheet against the accused on April 9. The girl’s father is before the SC, which ordered the transfer of the trial outside Kathua after it was alleged that a fair trial was not possible there due to a non-conducive atmosphere.
Jammu and Kashmir Government was asked to bear the travel expenses in case relatives of the accused wanted to travel from Kathua to Gurdaspur to meet them in jail. The trial judge and special public prosecutor would also be provided security by the Punjab government and the Jammu and Kashmir Government respectively. This was ordered after senior counsel India jaising, representing the victim’s family, claimed there were reports that the two were at a risk.
Jaising’s request to record of evidence by video-conferencing and stop the media from reporting the trial was not allowed.
A status report was filed in a sealed cover by the Jammu and Kashmir government, which was also given eight weeks to file a supplementary chargesheet in the case. SC was told there are 221 witnesses in the case. Permission was also granted to file appeals before the Punjab and Haryana High Court against any trial court order.
On Monday, the top court also directed the trial judge to ensure that the proceedings were conducted in-camera and none, other than accused, their lawyers, special public prosecutor and court staff remained present during the trial.