India Intelligence Report
 

Delhi Police Reopens Jessica Case

 

Intense public protest veiled chiding of prosecution lapses and judgment by Supreme Court Chief Justice Y.K. Sabharwal and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has spurred the Delhi police to represent the “Jessica Lall” case to the Delhi High Court. The police now say that the trial court was in undue haste in delivering a not-guilty verdict and found fault with the judgment on 92 counts. The police say that the trial court heard clarifications on Feb 21 and accused it of delivering a 179-page verdict the same afternoon throwing out the entire case without adequate consideration. The police accused the trial judge S.L. Bhayana of “non-application of judicial mind” and his verdict is based on “conjectures and surmises vitiated by non-consideration of relevant and admissible evidence.” They faulted the trial court of not taking a holistic view of the sequence of events leading to the shooting of Lall by the son of a former Federal Minister. Senior executives of a soft drinks company, son of a former well-respected President, a former cricketer, accompanied the prime accused, Manu Sharma. Three prime witnesses supporting the prosecution turned hostile therefore jeopardizing the case. Sharma shoot Lall because he was refused alcohol after permitted hours and some say to take revenge on him being dumped by her. The murder weapon was found and in police custody but mysteriously switched to not match the cartridge obtained from Lall’s body. The present Delhi Police Commissioner filed a report bitterly criticizing the process, methodology, and practices followed by investigators. However, his boss at that time refused to take action saying that intervention may jeopardize investigation. Witnesses turning hostile because of coercion, inducement, or threat is common in the criminal justice system in India. Sabharwal had highlighted the need for change if the system is to be protected. The Parliament is considering a new law that will amend the Criminal Penal Code (CrPC) that will make it harder for witnesses to turn hostile. The Supreme Court’s (SC) recent sentencing of Zahira Sheikh on charges of perjury is essentially to enforce the sanctity of deposing under oath. Critics say that while this may ensure that witnesses do not change their story easily, it may also prevent the truth, as some corrupt police officers are known to extract a “confession” or a “statement” to suit the purposes of their political masters. Sabharwal is actually advocating the separation of investigative agencies from law and order maintenance and placing them under the executive. The Legislative body is naturally opposed to this suggestion, as it would deprive them of a key mechanism increasingly being used for political purposes. A public interest litigation challenged the promotion of Bhayana to the High Court coincidentally soon after his controversial verdict. However, the SC dismissed the petition angrily at the suggestion that Bhayana passed the verdict for political favors and personal profit.

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