Bench seeks Attorney-General’s view in six weeks on constitutional validity of Section 376 E

Choosing not to intervene in the ongoing Shakti Mills gang rape trial in progress in a Mumbai sessions court, the Bombay High Court on Thursday adjourned the case which three convicts — involved in both the August 23 and July 21 incidents — had filed against the application of Section 376 E of the IPC, which allows death sentence for repeat offenders. This means the trial court can continue with the deposition of witnesses, of whom two have so far been examined by prosecution, even as one more is likely to depose on Friday. Defence cross-examination will follow.

On March 20, the sessions court convicted five adults — Vijay Jadhav, Qasim Sheikh alias Bengali, Salim Ansari, Mohammad Ashfak Shaikh and Siraj Sheikh — for the two gang rapes that occurred at Shakti Mills last year. Of the five, three — Jadhav, Bengali and Ansari — were involved in both cases.

Special public prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam had moved an application on March 21 seeking enhancement of their sentence with an additional charge under IPC Section 376 E against the three common accused. On March 24, the three convicts moved the Bombay High Court against this move.

“At this stage, we would refrain from making any conclusion on the application of Section 376 E of the IPC to the case and the tenability of framing the additional charge. We keep the issue open and not express any opinion. But our non-interference should not be construed as our approval to the view of the trial court,” the two-judge Bench of Justice N. Patil and A.M. Thipsay observed.

The High Court also asked the Attorney-General to submit a reply within six weeks on the constitutional validity of Section 376 E.

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