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Delhi rape: Why lawyers have challenged in-camera court proceedings

Describing the Delhi gangrape case as one that "shook the conscience of the nation" and a "symbol of a movement" to protect women’s rights, two lawyers have challenged a district court’s order invoking in-camera (in private) proceedings in the case.

The Metropolitan Magistrate, Namrita Aggarwal, had on Monday granted the Delhi Police’s request to hear the rape case in-camera and prohibit the media from reporting on the legal proceedings without permission of the court. The order was passed following commotion in the courtroom on the day when the five accused were to be produced in court.

PTI

The judge, who described the courtroom as being 'jam-packed', said that it had become "completely impossible for the court proceedings to carry on." Read the full report here.

As per 327 (2) of the Criminal Procedure Code, inquiry into and trial of a rape (or gangrape) case by a court shall be conducted in-camera. Further, 327 (2) (3) of Cr PC lays down that in such circumstances printing or publishing material relating to the proceedings without permission of the court is unlawful.

Lawyers Poonam Kaushik and DK Mishra, in their petition submitted to the Saket District Judge on Monday, have challenged the order invoking in-camera proceedings as being "contrary to law and facts."

Seeking that the order be "revoked and set aside", the petition states that the Delhi Police were responsible for "creating a situation (inside the courtroom) in which they succeeded to gag the media as well as to get the proceedings conducted in secrecy."

Mishra says, "The facts did not warrant that the proceedings be held in-camera. The second ground is legal. It (the gangrape case) is in the pre-trial stage. Neither is the judge conducting any inquiry nor is there a trial going on. So 327 (2) of the Cr PC (in-camera section invoked by the judge) is not applicable."

Asked what his apprehensions were with proceedings in the Delhi gangrape being held in-camera, Mishra said, "There are two aspects to this case. One is punishing the guilty. The other is the system’s failure, which will come out only by a fair and transparent trial…I believe that by keeping the entire proceedings in-camera or away from the eyes of the public, they are trying to hide the system’s failures."

Explaining the rationale behind holding in-camera trials in rape cases, Mishra said, "In rape cases, open trial is the exception and in-camera the rule. The objective of in-camera is to protect the identity of victim and to protect the victim of the ignominy of an open trial. And thirdly, to keep the gory incident outside public view to prevent further embarrassment to the victim."

"In this case (Delhi gangrape case), the name has been disclosed by the victim’s father. The entire incident has been described by victim’s friend (reference here to a recent TV interview given by the victim’s friend). And the victim is no more. Then what is there for an in-camera trial?"

Mishra adds that the only concern for the proceedings to go on smoothly is that of law and order. "Maintain law and order in the courtroom. And there is no problem on the count."

In response to the lawyers' petition, the district judge issued notice to the Delhi Police on Monday. The case will come up for hearing tomorrow.

The chargesheet in the gangrape case, where 23-year-old student and her friend were brutally assaulted in moving bus on December 16, was filed on 4 January. The gangrape victim succumbed to injuries on 29 December.

Five of the six accused have been charged with multiple offences including murder, attempt to murder, gang-rape, kidnapping, criminal conspiracy, dacoity, dacoity with murder and unnatural sexual offences. The sixth victim was identified by Delhi Police as a minor and will be tried by the juvenile justice board.

The court took congnisance of the chargesheet on 5 January. Next hearing in the case is on 10 January.