Kerala HC says that survivor of actor assault case influenced by media ‘trials’

The order was passed by Justice Ziyad Rahman AA while rejecting the plea of actor-survivor in the 2017 sexual assault case seeking transfer of the case to the special court.
Mediapersons holding their cameras above their heads
Mediapersons holding their cameras above their heads
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The Kerala High Court, on Thursday, September 22, while rejecting the plea of the actor-survivor in the 2017 sexual assault case seeking transfer of the case to another judge, said that the survivor might be ‘influenced’ by the ongoing ‘media trial’ in the case. Justice Ziyad Rahman AA says he has “all the reasons to assume that she is a victim of such wrong perceptions and aspersions created by the media.”

The survivor-actor in the case had filed a petition at the High Court stating that she was not satisfied with the trial proceedings being conducted by Judge Honey Varghese. The case was being heard by the Ernakulam Principal District and Sessions Court, presided by Judge Honey. This is the second time that the survivor has moved the HC against the judge, and both times, her petition has been rejected.

Observing that the survivor’s “apprehensions regarding possible interference in the fair trial” were not reasonable, the court said that the frequent discussions and debates in several news channels regarding the case “created some wrong perceptions about the trial of the case”. The judge further added that it ‘apparently influenced’ the general public, including the survivor.

The court in its order also says that the survivor was skeptical about the case proceedings from the start and there were instances to prove them. The court recalled that the survivor sought to appoint a woman judge to the case, following which the case was handed over to Judge Honey Verghese in February 2019. “Later, she filed a transfer petition against the woman judge, alleging personal bias, which was found to be without any valid grounds,” the court said.

The order also notes that the survivor has expressed doubts over another judge too. After this case came up for hearing before Justice Kauser Edappagath, on May 24 of this year, the survivor submitted an application to the high court Registrar seeking that the plea be not heard by Justice Kauser. The survivor’s reasoning was that this judge was presiding over the District Court in 2019 when the visuals were illegally accessed.  Following this, Justice Kauser recused himself from hearing her petition and Justice Ziyad Rahman AA started hearing the case.

“Thus, apparently, there is an atmosphere of distrust from the point of view of the survivor; a distrust on the present Sessions Judge, distrust on the judge of this court, and distrust on the investigation team, which are obviously influenced by the impressions created by the media through the ‘trials’ conducted in their studios,” the court said in its judgment. A point to be noted here is that the survivor has never questioned the investigation team, her petition merely said that the team was under political pressure.

Speaking further on the media coverage, the order said that ‘verdicts are passed’ in during the debates in media (‘trials’), and it is expected that the courts pass orders, sentence the accused to maximum punishment ‘by following their declarations’. The court also said that the debates are being conducted to convey views instead of news, without awareness about the nature of materials before the court or understanding the legal process.

The judge also pointed out that the HC had earlier made observations regarding media trials concerning the same case.

Justice Ziyad further said that it was time to “leave the justice delivery system alone, to do its job”. “Although criticism is the backbone of democracy and the media is expected to do that, in this case, it has transgressed the limits of fairness, reasonableness and rationality,” he observed.

The court, after observing that the survivor could not provide sufficient reasons for transfer of the case and pointing out to the time limit fixed by the Supreme Court, dismissed the transfer petition. The case pertains to the abduction and sexual assault of a woman actor in Kerala, allegedly at the behest of actor Dileep, who has since been booked as the eighth accused in the case. The survivor-actor Bhavana was sexually assaulted in a moving vehicle by a man named ‘Pulsar’ Suni with the help of his accomplices.

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