Thursday, March 30, 2023

Justice Lalit recuses from hearing Tarun Tejpal plea for in-camera hearing

Previously, Justice L Nageswara Rao had refused himself from hearing the stating he had appeared for the Goa government in 2015, when he was Senior Counsel.

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Supreme Court judge Justice U.U. Lalit has recused himself from hearing a plea 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. 

Justice Lalit recused himself saying he had represented Tejpal earlier in a case in the Supreme Court.

Previously, Justice L. Nageswara Rao had recused himself from hearing the matter stating 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.

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.

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

A 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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