Actress sexual assault case:Kerala HC junks plea for change of court

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(Adds details from the court order) Kochi, Nov 20 (PTI) The Kerala High Court on Friday declined to transfer the trial in the case of sexual assault of an actress in which popular Malayalam actor Dileep is among the accused, from the present court.

It rejected petitions filed by the actress who was allegedly sexually assaulted here in 2017 and the state government seeking to transfer the trial.

Dismissing the pleas, the court said unless the trial court and the prosecutor work in sync, it will result in either the guilty escaping from the clutches of law or the innocent being punished.

Justice V G Arun said he was confident that in the endeavour to reach the truth and render justice, the court, the Special Public Prosecutor and the defence lawyers will work in tandem, as is expected of them.

Addressing the petitioners contention that the Special Judge was being biased, the court referred to the cases in which the Supreme Court defined judicial bias.

'When the question is one of transfer of a criminal case on the ground of judicial bias, mere allegation of apprehension of bias is not enough, the court has to see whether such apprehension is reasonable or not.

The moot question here is whether the instances pointed out by the petitioners are sufficient to hold the apprehension of bias to be reasonable,' it said.

The court said it finds no merit in the contention that it would be appropriate for the Special Judge to recuse from the case.

'Being a case transferred by the High Court and the Honourable Supreme Court having prescribed a time limit for completing the process, the judge cannot be expected to recuse, as long as her conscience is clear.

The endeavour of every judge should be to get rid of his personal predilections and prejudices and to decide the cases dispassionately, and not to recuse whenever his or her actions are questioned,' the court said.

With the petitions being rejected, the trial at the CBI special court Judge-III Ernakulam will resume on Monday.

The judge also rejected the prayer sought by the state and counsel for the actress for a stay of the judgment for a period of one week to file an appeal before the Supreme Court, observing that he has become 'functus officio' after the pronouncement of the judgment.

'Functus officio' roughly means having performed his office, once an arbitrator renders a decision regarding the issues submitted he lacks any power to reexamine that decision.

The apex court has directed the trial court to dispose of the case on or before February 4, 2021.

In her plea, the actress alleged she was aggrieved by the biased and hostile attitude of the trial court and that it sat like a mute spectator when she was being examined and harassed by the counsel for Dileep.

She complained that it failed to restrict the number of lawyers for the accused present inside the court hall when she was being examined and failed to uphold the spirit of in-camera trial.

Endorsing the allegations levelled by the actress, the state government also sought transfer of the case to another court.

The state government, in its October 27 memorandum seeking transfer of the trial, submitted it was aggrieved by the 'biased, hostile and partisan' conduct of the trial court.

The government noted that the supreme court and the high court had earlier intervened and issued orders with respect to the trial which pointed to the importance of the case.

Counsel for the state government had submitted that the trial court judge and the prosecutor were at loggerheads and also said transfer will not affect the deadline set by the top court to complete the case.

The actress, who has worked in Tamil and Telugu films, was abducted and allegedly molested inside her car for two hours by the accused, who had forced their way into the vehicle on the night of February 17, 2017 and later escaped in a busy area.

The entire act was filmed by the accused to blackmail the actress.

There are ten accused in the case and initially, police arrested seven people.

Dileep was arrested subsequently and let out on bail later.

In April this year, the high court had allowed a petition by the actress seeking appointment of a woman judge for conducting the trial and ordered CBI special court Judge- III Ernakulam to complete the in-cameral trial expeditiously.