The Kerala High Court on Wednesday dismissed the plea of Cardinal George Alencherry, Major Archbishop of the Syro-Malabar Church, seeking exemption from appearing in person before the Judicial First Class Magistrate Court, Kakkanad, in seven criminal cases filed in connection with sale of church property.
The criminal cases were registered on a complaint filed by Joshy Varghese of Perumbavoor, alleging offences under Sections 406 (punishment for criminal breach of trust), 423 (dishonest or fraudulent execution of a deed of transfer containing a false statement of consideration), and 120 B (criminal conspiracy) read with 34 (acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention).
Though he had moved a petition before the magistrate court seeking exemption from personal appearance, no orders were issued in this regard. Therefore, he moved the High Court.
Dismissing his petition, Justice Ziyad Rahman A.A. observed that granting an exemption to the petitioner for the first appearance, in these cases, would send a wrong message to society. The petitioner sought exemption from his personal appearance on the ground that as a religious head, he was required to carry out several functions in various capacities under the church.
The court said that he was not entitled to any special privileges on account of his position before the court of law.
No special privilege
The court pointed out that the “statutory mandate is over and above all the superiority the accused possesses or claims to have, by virtue of his position. Irrespective of his position, he is just an accused before the court of law, who is not entitled to claim any special privilege and is required to face the proceedings just like any other citizen”.
The court also added that the provisions of the Criminal Procedure Code (Cr. PC) did not distinguish between ordinary citizens and “persons holding superior positions in their religious, political, social, or other institutions”.
“Equality before the law, the laudable principle enshrined in Article 14 of the Constitution of India, is not confined in its application only in cases where one seeks to enforce his rights. It is equally applicable when a person is proceeded against for violating the law or for committing an offence, and no preferential treatment can be claimed by anyone for any reason whatsoever, unless the statute contemplates such privilege”.
The court, however, observed that the plea pending before the magistrate court for exemption throughout the trial could be considered by the Magistrate court after his first appearance before it.