December 9, 2013

New Delhi, December 05, 2013: The Supreme Court on Thursday ordered the trial court to deliver its verdict in a case involving the rape of a Catholic nun allegedly by religious fanatics during the 2008 Kandhamal riots in Odisha.

The apex court has the asked the lower court to adopt “a belligerent approach instead of a wooden one” and give the verdict in three months, reports The Indian Express.

The Supreme Court had in February 2012 stayed the trial on a plea by the victim nun, who challenged the prosecution’s failure to cross-examine a judicial magistrate, failure of which she claimed helped the accused persons. According to the victim, the magistrate had withheld some accusatory statements she had made against one of the accused persons when he took the witness box.

A bench led by Justice S S Nijjar allowed the nun’s appeal, argued through senior advocate Colin Gonsalves, and set aside the orders passed by the trial court and the high court. The lower courts had held that she had no right to seek recalling a witness for cross-examination and that she must have faith in justice delivery system.

The apex court however reproached the lower courts for a “casual approach” and said it would certainly cause a “serious miscarriage of justice” since the magistrate’s version would influence the outcome of the case.

“We are convinced that the grievances as projected by the appellant as a victim, who was a victim of an offence of such a grotesque nature, in our considered view, the trial court as well as the High Court instead of rejecting the application of the appellant by simply making a reference to a Cr PC provision in a blind folded manner,” said the court.

The bench reminded the courts that “in criminal jurisprudence, while the offence is against the society, it is the unfortunate victim who is the actual sufferer and therefore, it is imperative for the State and the prosecution to ensure that no stone is left unturned. It is also the equal, if not more, the duty and responsibility of the court to be alive and alert in the course of trial of a criminal case and ensure that the evidence recorded in accordance with law reflected every bit of vital information placed before it.”

It noted that in the present case where there was a wrong statement made by a witness (magistrate) contrary to his own record and the prosecution failed to take note of it, the court should have acted promptly and have taken necessary steps to rectify the situation appropriately.

“The whole scheme of the Code of Criminal Procedure (Cr PC) envisages foolproof system in dealing with a crime alleged against the accused and thereby ensure that the guilty does not escape and innocent is not punished” it noted.

The bench then ordered for recalling the magistrate for cross-examination once again and said that the trial court should conclude the proceedings in accordance with law expeditiously, preferably within three months from the date of this order.

Officially, 38 people were killed in the riots that had occurred in the tribal-dominated district Kandhamal district in the aftermath of the killing of Hindu religious leader Laxmanananda Saraswati at the Jalespata Ashram on August 23, 2008.

However, Church people say more than 100 people were killed and more than 50,000 rendered homeless during the riots.

The nun had alleged she was attacked, gangraped and paraded semi-naked through the streets on August 25, 2008 in Kandhamal.


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