TAKING SERIOUS note of the attempt by a group of lawyers in Kathua to prevent J&K Police from filing a chargesheet last week in the gangrape and murder of an eight-year-old Bakerwal girl, the Supreme Court sought explanations from the Bar Council of India, Jammu and Kashmir Bar Council, Jammu High Court Bar Association and Kathua District Bar Association.The apex court asked for replies from all by April 19. A Bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud took cognizance of the developments brought to its notice by a group of lawyers and said that impeding the process of law “affects the delivery of justice”.
The apex court said that lawyers’ bodies have a solemn duty to not obstruct advocates representing the accused or the victims’ family in courts.
The court said, “It is settled in law that a lawyer who appears for a victim or accused cannot be prevented by any bar association or group of lawyers, for it is the duty of a lawyer to appear in support of his client… If a lawyer who is engaged, is obstructed from appearing in the court or if his client is deprived of being represented in the court when he is entitled to do so in a lawful manner, that affects the dispensation of justice and would amount to obstruction of access to justice…”
Issuing notices, it said, “We hope and trust that when we are issuing notice, the members of the Bar Associations shall conduct themselves and would not obstruct the smooth functioning of the justice delivery system which includes the presence of the persons aggrieved or accused in court or for that matter the presence of investigating agency and the witnesses.”
According to Shoeb Alam, standing counsel for J&K, “The police team was heckled by the lawyers and prevented from submitting the chargesheet before the Chief Judicial Magistrate court in Kathua.” Alam said police had to finally produce the eight accused and submit the chargesheet at the residence of the magistrate. Alam also opposed the plea that the case be handed over to CBI and said that “thorough investigations” were carried out by the J&K Police’s Crime Branch.
Alam told the court that police had also registered an FIR against some lawyers for allegedly obstructing the filing of the chargesheet.
The court’s directions came when a group of lawyers, including P V Dinesh, Gopal Shankar Narayanan and Shobha Gupta, raised the issue before the Bench Friday afternoon. According to J&K Police’s Crime Branch, which is investigating the case, the murder was part of a plan to “dislodge” a group of Bakerwal Muslim nomads from Rasana village in Kathua.
As The Indian Express first reported April 11, the 18-page chargesheet stated that the girl was gangraped thrice inside a prayer hall, where she was confined using sedatives. The accused then strangled and hit her on the head twice with a stone, it said. The accused later paid Rs 1.5 lakh as bribe to policemen who knew where the girl was kept but helped cover up the crime initially, it said.
The killing had sparked outrage across J&K with the government handing over the case to the Crime Branch following protests from the Bakerwal community. The case took a communal turn in Kathua, where an outfit called Hindu Ekta Manch was set up by politicians in support of the accused. Among those who backed the Manch were Lal Singh and Chander Prakash Ganga, two BJP ministers in Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti’s Cabinet, who submitted their resignations Friday.
According to the chargesheet, the mastermind behind the rape and murder is retired revenue official Sanji Ram who is among those arrested, along with his son Vishal Jangotra and nephew, believed to be a juvenile. The Crime Branch had also arrested Special Police Officers (SPOs) Deepak Khajuria and Surinder Kumar, a Rasana resident Parvesh Kumar, Assistant Sub Inspector Anand Dutta and Head Constable Tilak Raj in the case. Dutta and Raj were arrested on charges of attempting to destroy evidence.