Principal sessions judge G.B. Shah on Monday rejected an application by Gulberg Society witnesses and victims to suspend the trial till they approach the Gujarat High Court for a change of Special Court judge B.U. Joshi, hearing the massacre case.

The application was filed after the Ahmedabad sessions court dismissed a transfer petition by them last week that sought to change Mr. Joshi, alleging he was “biased” towards the accused.

While dismissing the transfer petition on grounds of jurisdictional limitations, Mr. Shah advised the aggrieved petitioners to approach the High Court, which alone has the jurisdiction to transfer the case to another court or take steps to redress their grievances.

“We propose to approach the High Court in the next few days,” S.M. Vora, advocate for the petitioners, said.

The petition was filed on January 25. It came up for hearing in Mr. Shah’s court on Wednesday and the dismissal order was issued on Thursday. According to Mr. Vora, the court did not go into the merit of the case, but dismissed it prima facie on jurisdictional limitations, pointing out that the sessions court had no powers to change or transfer a judge of the special court appointed under instructions of the High Court which, in turn, was ordered to take the necessary steps by the Supreme Court.

The High Court had constituted nine special courts last year for the trial of gruesome incidents of massacre during the 2002 communal riots in Gujarat and appointed Mr. Joshi to hear the Gulberg Society massacre.

Sixty-nine people, including former Congress member of the Lok Sabha Ehsan Jafri, were killed in the Gulberg Society massacre.

The petitioners cited several instances to justify their demand.

They claimed that after the deposition of two major witnesses, Imtiyaz Pathan and Rupa Modi, the judge did not allow other witnesses to step out of the witness box to identify the accused in the back of the court room. Also, during the hearing of a petition seeking to arraign more accused, the judge showed hostile and aggressive attitude against the victims and witnesses and repeatedly made derisive comments against them.