SC to Katju: Join the Soumya case hearing

In a blog, the former judge had criticised the Bench's judgment in the Soumya rape and murder case, calling it a "grave error".

October 17, 2016 05:03 pm | Updated November 28, 2021 09:35 pm IST - NEW DELHI

Justice Markandey Katju

Justice Markandey Katju

In a historic first, a Supreme Court Bench on Monday converted a Facebook blog of a former Supreme Court judge, Justice Markandey Katju, into a review petition and asked him to personally appear in court to “debate” his online lashing of the Bench's verdict commuting death penalty in the sensational 2011 Soumya rape and murder case.

A three-judge Bench of Justices Ranjan Gogoi, P.C. Pant and U.U. Lalit took suo motu judicial notice of Justice Katju's personal blog criticising the Supreme Court judges for relying on “hearsay evidence” to commute the death penalty of Govindaswamy, the sole convict in the case. The Bench has summoned Justice Katju to court on November 11.

The Bench said Justice Katju's views expressed in the Facebook blog – Satyam Bruyat – deserved the utmost respect as they were from a retired Supreme Court judge, and a debate was in order.

The Bench, after hearing the review petitions filed by the Kerala government and Soumya's mother, observed in the order that they did not consider it "appropriate" to decide these petitions till the debate with Justice Katju was done.

Justice Katju had called the Supreme Court's September 15 verdict a "grave error" not expected of "judges who had been in the legal world for decades".

The blog dated September 17 had castigated the Bench for believing "hearsay evidence" that Soumya jumped off the train instead of being pushed out by Govindaswamy.

"Even a student of law in a law college knows this elementary principle that hearsay evidence is inadmissible," Justice Katju had written in the blog.

The entire blog was reproduced in the court order.

The order came after a hearing on the review petitions filed by the State and the victim's mother which went on for two hours in the post-lunch, even after court hour were over. Attorney-General Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for Kerala, submitted that the Supreme Court judgment to commute the death penalty of Govindaswamy would encourage lawlessness, leading to a “catastrophic” situation in the State and the country.

The State argued that the convict attacked the victim and beat her "black and blue” inside the women's compartment of a passenger train in which she was travelling alone. He then raped her on the rail tracks

“Even if the deceased (Soumya) jumped out from the train, it was occasioned by the accused since otherwise she would loose her life or honour... The accused knew that the acts of violent beating would lead to death, and consequently, Section 299 IPC read with Section 300 IPC are attracted,” Mr. Rohatgi submitted.

Justice Pant however said the court was satisfied that the convict caused the grievous injuries to Soumya inside the train and had raped her on the rail tracks. But there was no conclusive proof from the side of the State to show that she was pushed out of the moving train by Govindaswamy. Justice Pant said the State did not effectively counter the testimonies of two witnesses that they had heard a third, unidentified “middle-aged” man on the train say that Soumya jumped out.

Justice Lalit observed that if she had died from the injuries sustained from the jump, Govindaswamy cannot be held guilty of murder.

“We are convinced of the fact that he attacked her in the train, that he committed rape, for which we have confirmed life imprisonment. But we are not convinced that he committed murder... Will the convict be responsible for her trying to jump and escape?” Justice Lalit observed.

Senior advocate Siddharth Luthra, appearing for Soumya's mother, asked the Bench whether a person who "forced" a person to jump out of a train is not equally liable for the consequences of such an escape.

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