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Trial Will Not Become 'In Camera' Unless Witnesses Are Provided With A Comfortable Atmosphere To Depose Freely: Kerala HC

22 Nov 2020 6:06 AM GMT
Trial Will Not Become In Camera Unless Witnesses Are Provided With A Comfortable Atmosphere To Depose Freely: Kerala HC

A trial does not become an 'In camera trial' merely because it is held inside a closed court hall, unless the witnesses are provided with a comfortable atmosphere to depose freely, the Kerala High Court has observed in the order dismissing the applications filed by the prosecution and the victim seeking to change the judge holding trial in the sensational actor sexual assault case of 2017.

One of the contentions raised in this petition was that though the proceedings were held 'in camera', a battery of defence lawyers were permitted inside the court hall during the cross examination of the victim, while derogatory questions were asked by the counsel for the accused, with reference to the video recording of the incident. By permitting a large number of lawyers inside the court hall, the very purpose of 'in camera' trial was defeated, the prosecution contended.

Addressing this contention, the court briefly explained the concept of 'in camera' trial. Justice VG Arun observed:

"On the issue of "in camera" proceedings, it would be profitable to to know the genesis of the term. The term "in camera" is of Latin origin and means "in private". As per the Oxford English Reference Dictionary, the term 'in camera' is defined as 'in a judge's private room'. In the Major Law Lexicon, the term is defined as 'in chambers;in private; in the judge's private room; not in open court'. This gives a clear indication of the extent of confidentiality expected, when the trial is held 'in camera'. Therefore, by the mere fact that the trial is held inside a closed court hall, it does not become 'in camera' trial, unless the purpose of providing a comfortable atmosphere for the witnesses to depose freely, is maintained. These are aspects to be borne in mind while conducting trial 'in camera'"

The court observed that the prayer for transfer on the ground of harassment of witness during cross examination cannot be entertained at this stage since the prosecution failed to initiate appropriate and timely action to redress the grievance. The court said:

"On the second contention regarding failure of the Special Judge to intervene during the cross-examination of PW1, even if this court finds that it would have been prudent and proper for the learned Judge to have intervened as and when the victim was seemingly harassed during cross-examination, that being the requirement pointed out in Gurmit Singh's case, having failed to initiate appropriate and timely action to redress the grievance, the prayer for transfer on that ground cannot be entertained. The observations of the Apex Court in Mina Lalita Baruwa v. State of Orissa [(2013) 16 SCC 173], that courts cannot remain mute spectators during trial and should adopt a belligerent approach and should be alive and alert during trial of criminal cases, are relevant in this context"

While dismissing the petitions, the court further said:

"The judge cannot be expected 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. 33. It has time and again been stated that the duty of the Prosecutor is not to seek conviction at all costs or be an avenging angel for the victim, but to ensure that justice is delivered. The Special Public Prosecutor in this case is understood to be a seasoned Prosecutor, not easily flummoxed by the number of defence lawyers or the charged atmosphere in the court hall. 34. As far as a defence lawyer is concerned, he is in theory an officer of the court and irrespective of his engagement, has a higher duty to the court, in assisting the court in finding out the truth and placing before the court the point of view of his client honestly and fairly. The advocate's duty to the court transcends the limited and narrow loyalty to the client who has engaged him. I have no doubt that the defence lawyers in this case are well aware of their role. 35. It goes without saying that unless the 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. 36. I am 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."
CASE: STATE OF KERALA vs. SUNIL [email protected] PULSAR SUNI [Tr.P(Crl.).No.49 OF 2020]
CORAM: Justice VG Arun
COUNSEL: Sr.GP SUMAN CHAKRAVARTHY for State, Sr. Adv S. Sreekumar for victim

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