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Justice L Nageswara Rao recuses himself from Tarun Tejpal rape case, as he appeared for Goa in the case in 2015

Supreme Court judge Justice L. Nageswara Rao on Friday refused to hear the petition filed by former Tehelka magazine editor Tarun Tejpal seeking in-camera hearing in the appeal filed by the State of Goa against his acquittal in a sexual assault case, stating that he represented the State of Goa in the case in 2015.

When the matter came up for hearing before a Bench of Justice Rao and Justice B.R. Gavai, the former said he will recuse himself from the case, since he had appeared for the Goa government in 2015, when he was Senior Counsel.

Tejpal has sought in-camera hearing of the case citing Section 327 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) as well as the recent order of Justice Gautam Patel of the Bombay High Court, giving directions for in-camera hearings in cases under the Prevention of Sexual Harassment at Workplace Act.

Tejpal’s contention was that every party has a right to put forth their case in the best possible manner. It would be unfair if lawyers have to curtail their submissions in view of the fact that some publication would publish something without taking due care, he contended.

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The petition added that Section 327 of CrPC was no more just a statutory obligation, but has become a fundamental right.

On May 21 last year, a trial court had acquitted Tejpal of all charges levelled against him, including wrongful confinement, assault or criminal force with intent to outrage modesty, sexual harassment and rape against his female colleague. The acquittal was challenged by the State of Goa before the High Court.

One of the several grounds raised in the appeal was that the 527-page judgement was influenced by extraneous and inadmissible material and by testimonies and graphic details of the past sexual history of the victim, which was prohibited by law. The same was used for the purpose of censuring the prosecutrix’s character, and discrediting her evidence, the appeal stated.

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Shortly after the State filed the appeal, Tejpal moved the High Court with an application seeking in-camera hearing of the matter.

The 23-page order had rejected Tejpal’s plea for in-camera hearing.

The High Court Bench had observed that in cases such as rape, all parties were expected to conduct themselves with sobriety, sensitivity and dignity. It further said that maintaining decorum in the courtroom is not merely a superficial means of protecting the image of lawyers and judges, but absolutely essential to the administration of justice.

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