Bilkis Bano case: Supreme Court makes strong remarks, says convicts 'don't want hearing'

Bilkis Bano case: Supreme Court makes strong remarks, says convicts 'don't want hearing'

Several counsel appearing for the convicts raised objections on not being served the notice on Bano's plea, which made the top court make strong observations.

PTIUpdated: Wednesday, May 03, 2023, 12:05 PM IST
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Bilkis Bano | FPJ

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Tuesday deferred to May 9 the hearing on a batch of pleas challenging the remission granted last year to all the 11 convicts in the case of gang rape of Bilkis Bano and murder of her family members during the 2002 post-Godhra riots.

Several counsel appearing for the convicts raised objections on not being served the notice on Bano's plea, which made the top court observe, "It is obvious, rather more than obvious, that you all do not want the hearing to be conducted by this bench."

A bench of Justices K M Joseph and B V Nagarathna was told by Solicitor General (SG) Tushar Mehta, who appeared in the court on behalf of the Centre and the Gujarat government, that they are not claiming any privilege and not filing any plea for a review of the court's March 27 order, asking for the production of the original records with regard to the remission granted to the convicts.

SG raised prelimnary objections in regard to petitions filed

The SG raised preliminary objections with regard to the petitions filed in the matter other than the one by Bano, saying it will have wide ramifications as every now and then, third parties will approach courts in criminal cases.

The bench fixed May 9 for hearing the matter as several counsel for the convicts, who have been released, said they need time to file their replies to Bano's plea.

"We are only fixing timelines, so that whichever court takes up the matter will not have to waste time on these procedural issues. I am retiring during the vacation on June 16. My last working day will be May 19. My sister (Justice Nagarathna) will be going to attend a conference in Singapore till May 25. If all of you agree, we can sit during the vacation and finish hearing the case," Justice Joseph said.

Counsel for petitioners ask agree court may hear matter during vacation

Some counsel appearing for the petitioners, including senior advocate Indira Jaising and Vrinda Grover, agreed that the bench may hear the matter during the summer vacation.

The SG, however, requested the court to list the matter before the vacation and not during the vacation.

"It is not that I will not be available for this case but all cases. Once we make an exception for one case, I will have to make an exception for all the cases," Mehta said.

Advocate Shobha Gupta said the matter will take a very short time as only the question of law needs to be decided.

Court's observations

Justice Joseph told Gupta, "It is apparent that the counsel appearing for the convicts do not want this hearing to take place. Every time the matter will be called up, one person or the other will come and say that he needs time to file a reply. It is more than obvious."

He said, "It is somewhat clear what is being attempted here. It is obvious, rather more than obvious, that you all do not want the hearing to be conducted by this bench. This is not fair to me. In our last hearing, we had made it absolutely clear that the matter will be listed for final disposal on the next date of hearing. Remember, all of you (the counsel for the convicts) are officers of the court. Do not forget your role. You may lose one case or win a case, but do not forget your duty towards the court."

The court then said a new bench will take up the matter for final hearing in the second week of July.

Counsels of convicts say there should be no 'tearing hurry'

Senior advocate Siddharth and advocate Rishi Malhotra, appearing for the convicts, wondered what was the "tearing hurry" in hearing the case after the counsel for Bano and others requested that the matter be taken up before the vacation.

"We have been released and are out for around one year. There should not be any tearing hurry," Malhotra said.

He added that he wishes to file certain preliminary objections to the writ petition filed by Bano against the remission, saying the Supreme Court rules do not allow the filing of a writ petition after a review against the main judgment has been dismissed.

Some of the counsel appearing for the convicts said two of their clients were out of station but it was stated by the petitioners that they had refused to accept the notice.

They sought two weeks' time to file their replies to Bano's petition.

Justice Nagarathna said the counsel for the respondents who are present in the court may accept the notice in the court and file their responses by May 9.

The bench directed that those convicts whose counsels are not in the court and who have not been served the notice shall be served it through the local police stations. Justice Joseph said the court understands that this is a bald attempt to wait out the time he has before retirement.

Court questioned Gujarat govt over remission of 11 convicts

On April 18, the top court questioned the Gujarat government over the remission granted to the 11 convicts, saying the gravity of the offence should have been considered, and wondered if there was any application of mind.

Asking for the reasons for the premature release of the convicts, the top court had also questioned the parole granted to them during their incarceration period. "It(remission) is a kind of grace, which should be proportional to the crime," it had said.

The Centre and the Gujarat government had also told the court that they might file a plea seeking a review of its March 27 order, asking them to be ready with the original files on the grant of remission.

On March 27, terming Bilkis Bano's gang rape and the murder of her family members during the 2002 post-Godhra riots a "horrendous" act, the apex court had asked the Gujarat government whether uniform standards, as followed in other murder cases, were applied while granting remission to the 11 convicts.

It had sought the responses of the Centre, the Gujarat government and others on the plea filed by Bano, who has challenged the remission of the sentences.

Remission of convicts in Bilkis Bano rape case

All 11 convicts were granted remission by the Gujarat government and released on August 15 last year.

The top court is seized of the PILs filed by CPI(M) leader Subhashini Ali, independent journalist Revati Laul, former vice-chancellor of the Lucknow University Roop Rekha Verma and Trinamool Congress (TMC) MP Mahua Moitra against the release of the convicts.

Bano was 21 years old and five months pregnant when she was gang-raped while fleeing from the riots that broke out after the Godhra train-burning incident. Her three-year-old daughter was among her seven family members killed in the riots.

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