Ruling that the principle of free and fair trial does not only protect the rights of the accused but also ensures that the faith of victims in the justice delivery system is vindicated, the Supreme Court on Wednesday directed that RJD leader Mohammad Shahabuddin be shifted from Siwan jail in Bihar to Delhi’s Tihar Jail in the “interest of the collective and social order”.
“This is not a normal and usual case,” said a bench of Justices Dipak Misra and Amitava Roy, as it ordered the Bihar government to hand over Shahabuddin to the jail authorities in Delhi within a week and conduct his trials through video-conferencing.
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Shahabuddin, a four-time RJD MP from Siwan, has been booked in 75 cases, of which he has been convicted in 10 and sentenced to life imprisonment in two cases. He has been acquitted in 20 cases while 45 trials are still on. Of the 45 cases, 15 FIRs, including those of murder, were lodged against him while he was behind bars in Siwan jail.
Two petitions were filed in the apex court — by Asha Ranjan, wife of slain journalist Rajdev Ranjan, and Chandrakeshwar Prasad, father of three youths who were allegedly killed on Shahabuddin’s orders — seeking his transfer from Siwan jail. They contended that a free and fair trial was not possible because of Shahabuddin’s clout, and witnesses feared for their lives.
Shahabuddin’s counsel, Shekhar Naphade, opposed the plea, citing the right to a free and fair trial and arguing that there was no provision in law that mandated transfer of an accused from one prison to another.
Discussing the law and precedents, the bench shot down Naphade’s arguments. “Fair trial must soothe the ultimate justice which is sought individually, but is subservient and would not prevail when fair trial requires transfer of the criminal proceedings,” said the court, adding that an accused cannot be permitted to jettison the fundamentals of a trial in the name of fair trial.
It said that when there is threat to life, liberty and when fear pervades, it corrodes the basic marrow of holding the trial at Siwan. “This is quite farther from the idea of fair trial. The grievance of the victims, who have enormously and apparently suffered, deserves to be dealt with as per the law of the land and should not remain a mirage and a distant dream,” said the bench.
The court said the rights of the accused and the victims have to be balanced and an order of transfer would eventually depend on the “greater community interest” and “sustenance of public confidence in the justice dispensation system”.
“An accused who has been able to, by his sheer presence, erode the idea of safety of a witness in court, or for that matter impairs and rusts the faith of a victim in the ultimate justice, and such erosion is due to fear psychosis prevalent in the atmosphere of trial, is not to be countenanced as it is an unconscionable situation,” held the bench, as it invoked its extraordinary powers under Article 142 to order Shahabuddin’s transfer to Tihar Jail.