After days of deliberation, the Kerala High Court has dismissed the plea filed by the prosecution and the victim to change the judge of the trial court handling the actress assault case of 2017. Detailed reasoning of the decision will be revealed as soon as a copy of the order is released.
The dismissal was pronounced by a single bench comprising of Justice VG Arun after having reserved his judgement on November 13. He was hearing a petition filed by Special Public Prosecutor Suman Chakravarthy and senior advocate S Sreekumar — who represented the victim. They had pleaded to change the judge of the trial court — Court of Additional Sessions Judge (Special/CBI)-III, Ernakulam — citing that the judge had “manifest bias” among other things.
The High Court had stayed the trial at the trial court until the procurement of the order. The HC lifted the stay and directed the trial court to resume proceedings from Monday, November 23. Clarifying that they cannot continue with the current judge at the trial court, the government had asked to extend the stay on the proceedings for one more week to get enough time to file an appeal. However, the High Court bench did not grant it.
The survivor had accused the trial court of being “biased” and “hostile” especially when the lawyers of the accused — Dileep — had made her uncomfortable with their questions. Taking into consideration the actress’ opinion about the trial court, the state government has supported her choice to change the court. The prosecution upheld her arguments and urged the High Court to grant their plea. The allegations against the trial court are manifold. The first instance includes the refusal to include witness testimonies.
In the case of actress Manju Warrier, who was cross-examined on February this year, the court ignored her statement that the accused Dileep had tried to influence her. She revealed that her daughter asked her not to say anything against her father. However, the court noted that such an admission during re-examination was inadmissible in court.
Adding to the same issue, the survivor had informed the court that the eighth accused (Dileep) told Bhama that he would burn the survivor for the latter’s part in his marriage falling apart. However, the court dismissed it as hearsay and refused the prosecutor’s request to record the statement for corroboration. The prosecution also adds that there have been many instances when the court refused to record witness statements that have been in support of the survivor. They have been changed by including words such as “witness adds” or “clarifies”.
Moreover, the survivor and prosecution claim, in their plea, that the court had allowed secondary victimisation when the victim had to sit through “watching and identifying the visuals recorded by the accused”. The apparent in-camera proceeding was attended by 17 advocates of which eight were for the eighth accused. In their plea, the victim’s lawyer, Sreekumar, submitted that the victim had to face a hostile environment. “Most of the time I (victim) was weeping. I was forced to speak about the dreadful details of the incident before a large group of lawyers. The judge couldn’t control the court, and no judge would have allowed putting such questions to a victim of a horrific sexual crime,” he noted.
The HC, however, had asked why they hadn’t pushed to change the trial court at the earliest and why they had not challenged the court’s orders. Justice Arun asked if their — prosecution and victim’s lawyer — would “amount to acquiescence”. Sreekumar submitted that they had been hopeful of a change but now they have come to a stage where “fair adjudication is not possible”. “There is a tolerance level, and when that was crossed, the petition had been filed,” he added. Another issue the Justice pointed out was the victim had asked for a female judge and a change seemed troubling.
Earlier this year, several key witnesses turned hostile, recanting their admission. Actors Siddique and Bhama, who admitted to a scuffle between Dileep and the survivor, later changed their stand. In March, actress Bindu Panicker, who stated that she was aware of Dileep meeting the prime accused Pulsar Suni at Hotel Abad Plaza in 2013, changed her earlier stand.
Meanwhile, Pradeep Kottathala, the office secretary of actor and MLA KB Ganesh Kumar, admitted that he met actor Dileep twice in prison. Today, the Kasargod District Sessions Court has stayed his arrest until Monday, when it would consider the anticipatory bail.
His statement reads he accompanied Ganesh Kumar to the prison for the first time, while he went alone during the second time. He even confessed that he had contacted Sunilraj, Dileep’s driver, over the phone. The special investigation team’s report states that there is concrete evidence against Pradeep for threatening Vipin Lal, the approver in the actress assault case. The police have submitted a copy of the statement with the court.
In the report, the probing team has requested his custody for further interrogation. Yesterday, the team questioned him for almost five hours, and he told the police that he visited Kasargod to buy a watch from Kollam. Earlier, Pradeep said that he had no link to Dileep. Later, he admitted to having met Dileep in prison following detailed interrogation. In the court, the police said that there had been a conspiracy, and the motive behind it can be identified only if Pradeep is quizzed thoroughly.