Due to repeated adjournments in criminal appeals of convicts in the Kathua gangrape case, the Punjab and Haryana High Court has said that no further adjournment will be granted in the case. It also warned that it will not hesitate in appointing an advocate as amicus curiae in case the lawyers representing the parties do not appear on February 11, when the matter will be heard next.
“It is made clear that on the next date of hearing, no adjournment would be granted. In case the lawyers do not appear on the date fixed, the court will not hesitate to appoint an advocate to assist as amicus curiae,” the division bench of Justices Rajiv Sharma and Harinder Singh Sidhu said in the order passed Tuesday.
An application seeking suspension of sentence of convict Tilak Raj was listed for hearing on Tuesday. Senior advocate R S Cheema along with advocate Arshdeep Singh Cheema, who represent the state of Jammu & Kashmir in the case, and advocate Dr Tarunvir, who represents Tilak Raj, were present during the hearing, as per the order.
While the court in its order has not recorded any reasons for its apparent disappointment with adjournments in the case, a senior counsel who was present in court during the hearing told The Indian Express that the court wanted to hear arguments over appeal of the convicts, but the lawyers of all parties were not present at the hearing. The bench headed by Justice Rajiv Sharma is known for its speedy disposal of criminal appeals.
The three main convicts — Sanji Ram, Parvesh Kumar and Deepak Khajuria — were sentenced to life imprisonment in the case by a Pathankot court on June 10 last year. Three former police officers — sub-inspector Anand Dutta, special police officer Surinder Kumar and head constable Tilak Raj were sentenced to five years’ imprisonment for destruction of evidence. An SIT of the J&K Police Crime Branch had in its investigation concluded that the 8-year-old victim, who belonged to the Bakerwal community in Kathua’s Rasana village, was murdered and raped in January 2018 as part of a conspiracy to “dislodge” the nomadic community from the village. The trial was conducted by the Pathankot district and sessions judge on orders of the Supreme Court and appeals of the convicts are pending before the High Court at Chandigarh since July 2019.
The J&K government has also filed an appeal for death penalty for the three main convicts while contending that the case was “rarest of rare” for which only the death sentence is appropriate and just. In two other appeals, the State has also sought conviction of the lone acquitted accused, Vishal Jangotra, and also setting aside of the acquittal of the three police officers under the charge of conspiracy.
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