A case moving at snail’s pace

Dharmaraj Rasalam, moderator of CSI Church and Bishop of South Kerala diocese,  with Kerala Minister Antony Raju in Thiruvananthapuram.

Dharmaraj Rasalam, moderator of CSI Church and Bishop of South Kerala diocese,  with Kerala Minister Antony Raju in Thiruvananthapuram. | Photo Credit: MAHINSHA S.

Over 15 years after being charge-sheeted in a criminal case, Kerala Transport Minister Antony Raju will stand trial at the Judicial First Class Magistrate Court at Nedumangad next month. Mr. Raju, the second accused in the criminal case booked in 1994, is facing some serious charges including cheating, criminal conspiracy, dishonestly inducing delivery of property and causing disappearance of evidence of offence.

Mr. Raju, a lawyer at that time, has been charge-sheeted for conspiring with the clerk of the property section of a trial court in Thiruvananthapuram for replacing an undergarment, a material object in the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act case, that was worn by an Australian citizen, Andrew Salvatore Cervelli. Commercial quantities of charas, a narcotic substance, was also recovered from the pockets of the undergarment of the Australian, who was awarded a jail term of 10 years rigorous imprisonment. He was subsequently acquitted by the Kerala High Court on an appeal. However, it was later revealed that the size of the undergarment, which was procured from the trial court, was altered to appear that it could not be worn by the Australian. The accused resorted to the malpractice of securing the acquittal of the convict from the High Court.

Besides the criminal act of cheating a court by tampering with evidence, the unusual delay in completing the trial has caught many people by surprise. The case also raises questions of legal and constitutional propriety of a person against whom a court has found a prima facie case occupying a cabinet berth.

Barring the issuance of summons to some witnesses in the case, which came to the court in 2006, nothing significant took place in the courtrooms. Later, the case, which was to be tried in a Thiruvananthapuram court, was transferred to the Nedumangad court considering the fact that the accused was a prominent lawyer practising before the court which was supposed to try the case. The case was posted on over 20 occasions in the Thiruvananthapuram court before it was transferred to Nedumangad. There has not been any satisfactory explanation on the inordinate delay for considering the case. All the judiciary could account for was the delay of nearly two years on account of the COVID-19 pandemic. There were also claims that the judiciary had suo motu initiated some proceedings for resuming the trial before the media took up the issue.

The State, the complainant, cannot shy away from its responsibility of failing to bring the long-pending case to the attention of the judiciary for trial. It is also the responsibility of the prosecution to ensure the presence of witnesses before the court and complete the trial on time. The prosecution cannot hide behind the argument that there is no dedicated and efficient system for the execution of summons and warrants and so, it has to rely on the police for the job, leading to delays in completing the processes.

The lethargic approach of the State in dealing with high-profile cases, the lack of adequate judicial officers, and government apathy in investing in the judiciary and open fast-track magistrate courts are all to be blamed for the situation. It is estimated that over 19.15 lakh cases including 13.96 lakh criminal cases are pending in trial courts, which are to be handled by the 530 judicial officers of the State. In Thiruvananthapuram, there are only 22 magistrates to handle the 3.32 lakh cases pending.

A judiciary committed to the timely dispensation of justice, a proactive prosecution, and a government keen on providing the required infrastructure to courts are required to address the situation and ensure the prompt and timely delivery of quality justice.

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Printable version | Jul 26, 2022 6:56:54 pm |