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Jharkhand High Court exempts Congress leader Rahul Gandhi from appearing in criminal defamation case before Ranchi court

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The High Court of Jharkhand has exempted Congress leader Rahul Gandhi from appearing before a special court in Ranchi in the criminal defamation case registered against him for his alleged remarks against Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The Single-Judge Bench of Justice Sanjay Kumar Dwivedi observed on Wednesday referred to the Supreme Court order in Puneet Dalmia vs Central Bureau of Investigation case and observed that exemption under Section 205 (Magistrate may dispense with personal attendance of accused) of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) was justified.

It noted that the petitioner was a sitting Member of Parliament, who remained busy with other works including attending the Parliament Session. 

Justice Dwivedi further said that in para-15, the terms and conditions for such exemption has been stated to be complied by the petitioner by way of filing a fresh affidavit before the court. 

Taking in view the above statement, the Judge noted that absence of the petitioner would not hamper the trial and the case would proceed further without Gandhi attending the proceedings.

The Congress leader had challenged an order of a Ranchi court, which refused to exempt him from appearing in the criminal defamation case filed against him by one Pradeep Modi. Gandhi apprised the High Court that the trial court in Ranchi rejected his plea on the grounds that he had appeared in an identical case at another place.

He assured the Single-Judge Bench that he would not dispute his identity as an accused and that his counsel would appear before the trial court on his behalf. Further, he said that he would not object to evidence being taken in his absence.

The Congress leader also prayed for setting aside the trial court order that rejected his plea under Section 205 CrPC as the case was trivial in nature.

Advocate Modi apprised the High Court that since Gandhi had not appeared before the trial court, it rightly rejected his plea. He said the petitioner had already been convicted by a Gujarat court in a similar case, adding that the application under Section 205 CrPC was filed three years after the case was initiated.

Justice Dwivedi noted that the trial court has a discretion to dispense with or even enforce the personal attendance of the accused for sufficient reasons. The discretionary nature of power under Section 205 was not in doubt, but to avoid unnecessary harassment to the accused, the trial court was required to consider the application in view of several judgments, it added.

Taking in view the judgment in the Bhaskar Industries case, the High Court observed that it was crystal clear that the trial court could allow the accused to make even the first appearance through a counsel.

Setting aside the trial court verdict, the Single-Judge Bench exempted Gandhi from appearing before it in person and directed his advocate to appear before the trial court on each date of hearing.

(Case title: Rahul Gandhi vs State of Jharkhand and Anr)

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