In a significant development in the sensational Kerala actor assault case and a setback to the survivor actor, the Kerala High Court on Friday, 20 November, turned down her plea and refused to transfer the trial proceedings to a different court.
The HC was considering the plea of the survivor actor as well as the state government, who had asked that the trial be transferred out of the present court. The survivor actor, the Special Public Prosecutor and the state government had alleged a ‘discriminatory approach’ by the Judge Honey M Varghese, who is hearing the case.
The High Court bench of Justice VG Arun ruled that there was “no sustainable ground” to transfer the case. During the hearing, the government sought an extension on the stay on the trial, but that request too was turned down by the High Court.
“Unless the court and the prosecution work in sync, either the guilty escapes from the clutches of law or the innocent being punished,” the court observed.
The 2017 case pertains to the abduction and sexual assault of a woman actor in Kerala. Malayalam actor Dileep, who is the eighth accused in the case, is alleged to have masterminded the assault, allegedly over a personal grudge against the survivor actor.
The trial of the case began in November 2019 at the Additional Sessions (CBI special No III) Court in Ernakulam and was being heard by judge Honey M Varghese. Notably, it was on the special request of the survivor actor, that a woman judge should try the case, that the Kerala High Court had appointed Judge Honey M Varghese to preside over the trial.
What the Survivor Actor Had Sought
The rather unprecedented development in the case began with Special Public Prosecutor A Suresan approaching the trial court, asking it to stop the proceedings, and alleging that the court is “highly biased, which is detrimental to the judicial system and to the entire prosecution.”
After the trial court disposed of his plea, he moved the Kerala High Court, which was when the survivor actor and the state government also approached the High Court, asking that the trial be transferred.
The survivor and the state government had told the HC that a fair trial will not be received in the case if the case continues to be tried by the court of Judge Honey M Varghese. The survivor had alleged that the court was “biased and hostile” towards her. The survivor’s counsel recently reiterated to the HC that the survivor has not insisted that a woman judge should consider the trial.
The survivor had also made serious allegations against the trial court, stating that the judge did not interfere even when she was being harassed by Dileep’s counsels during the cross examination. “The court was a mute spectator,” the survivor had told in her plea to HC.
Serious questions were also raised by the government on the “in-camera” proceedings, as the trial court did not restrict the number of lawyers present in the courtroom. The state government questioned how 30 lawyers could be present in the court while the survivor was cross examined for days together.
Survivor stated in the HC that the court had even examined the assault visuals in the presence of this baton of lawyers, of which 19 were Dileep’s advocates. “I was weeping. I was compelled to speak which no women dare to speak in public,” the survivor had told HC.
The survivor had also alleged that the court did not deliberately record certain portions of the statements she made during the proceedings.
The state government had argued in HC that the trial court judge was keen to try the case despite the Special Public Prosecutor moving to stop the proceedings. The judge was supposed to inform this to the HC, but rather the petition was disposed of, state government counsel had told HC.
As per the Supreme Court direction, the trial in the case was supposed to be completed within six months. The trial court had, on the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, moved to SC seeking more time to complete the proceedings. In the case which has about 350 witnesses, examination of 80 witnesses has been completed.
(This story was first published in The News Minute and has been republished with permission)