(by Muzamil Jaleel)
New Delhi April 28: Did the lawyers of Kathua Bar Association prevent the Crime Branch team from filing the charge sheet in the case of gangrape and murder of an eight-year-old Bakerwal girl in Kathua or not? While a report filed by the Bar Council of India (BCI) before the Supreme Court on Thursday said there was nothing on record to say that the lawyers obstructed the chargesheet, an affidavit filed by the Jammu and Kashmir High Court, the report of the Principal District and Sessions Judge Kathua and the state government have said that the lawyers indeed obstructed the Crime Branch team from filing the charge sheet in the chief judicial magistrate’s court and that the police finally submitted the chargesheet at the judge’s official residence later in the evening.
On April 13, the Supreme Court took serious note of the conduct of the lawyers at the court and sought explanations from the BCI, J&K Bar Council, Jammu High Court Bar Association and Kathua District Bar Association. A bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud had taken cognizance of the developments and said that impeding the process of law “affects the delivery of justice”.
Subsequently, the BCI formed a five-member committee to undertake a fact-finding mission. In its report, the BCI team concluded that the lawyers in Kathua did not restrict any official of the Crime Branch from filing the charge sheet before the court. Instead, the BCI report blamed the media for “misreporting the entire episode, especially relating to the conduct” of lawyers at Kathua and Jammu. In fact, the BCI team transcended its mandate and concluded that “the demand for a CBI inquiry by the public, civil society in Jammu and by Kathua and Jammu Bar Association appears to be justifiable”.
The BCI report, however, has been contradicted by the affidavit filed by the J&K High Court (officiating as the State Bar Council), the report of the Principal District and Session Judge Kathua and the J&K government. The BCI team, in fact, did not meet the Crime Branch team or consider the FIR filed by J&K Police in Kathua police station against the lawyers for “restraining” the Crime Branch from filing the charge sheet, “using criminal force upon the police” and “disallowing them from discharging their legitimate duties”.
The J&K government’s affidavit said the officers were “heckled and prevented from even reaching the court… a few lawyers also barged into the chambers of the CJM and made attempts to humiliate and threaten officers to leave the court”. The charge sheet was filed at 9 pm at the CJM’s official residence, the affidavit said. It cited a press release issued by the president of Kathua Bar Association, Kirti Bhushan Mahajan, on April 9 saying that “the agitation of the Bar proved successful and the Crime Branch was compelled to go back and the challan couldn’t be presented in the court”.
The affidavit submitted by the Registrar General of J&K High Court Jammu Sanjay Dhar said that “reports were received on April 9, 2018, that some advocates of Kathua Bar Association had caused hindrance at the time of presentation of the challan.” Subsequently, a report was sought from Principal District and Sessions Judge Kathua, “who confirmed that obstruction was caused by advocates…”
In a report submitted to the Registrar General of J&K High Court, Jammu, on April 10, Principal District and Sessions Judge Kathua Sanjeev Gupta wrote that on April 9, “….as soon as the Crime Branch team arrived in the premises of the court of Chief Judicial magistrate Kathua, a group of lawyers resorted to a massive and intense protest demonstration… the accused, seven in number, were brought in custody… could not be produced in the court of CJM… In the meantime, the court time was over but the demonstration of lawyers continued. The team of Crime branch made a hasty retreat from the court premises and took accused along with them. The CJM Kathua remained in his office chamber till 6 pm and scrutinised the challan which was found to be duly complied. The lawyers also remained standing outside the court of CJM raising slogans and demonstration. In view of the sensitive nature of the case, the Crime Branch officials were advised to bring the accused to the official residence of CJM at 8 PM.” The report continued: “Some lawyers assembled the official residence of CJM Kathua up to 7.45 pm along with media persons but thereafter they left the place…”
The BCI report also rejected the “contention” of Dipika Singh Rajawat, a Jammu lawyer who represented the eight-year-old victim, “that she was threatened by the President of J&K Bar Association” B S Slathia because “majority of lady advocates of the Jammu Bar looked upon the Bar President as a fatherly figure and there was no question of the Bar President threatening Rajawat”. The victim’s father had approached the J&K High Court, which subsequently monitored the Crime Branch investigation into the rape and murder of the child. Rajawat had filed a complaint before the Chief Justice of J&K High Court on April 4, saying that she was threatened by the Jammu Bar president B S Slathia asking her to abstain her court work. Subsequently, she was given a guard inside the court premises so that she could appear in the case.
(Muzamil Jaleel is an Associate Editor with the Indian Express.