A bench of Chief Justice U U Lalit and Justice Ravindra Bhat said, “We are of the opinion that the circumstances in which the request was made through the letter after appeal was set down for hearing despite repeated opportunities was not justified.”
“The appellant could have sought recourse by filing an appropriate application, in accordance with the procedures set out, well in time. We therefore agree that the appeal made at this late stage appears to be to prolong the hearing. In these circumstances, the court declines to interfere. The appeal is accordingly dismissed,” the bench said.
Justice Bela M Trivedi, who was also part of the bench, took a strict view and said, “Such a dilatory tactics adopted by the parties and their advocates and thereby deflecting the course of justice in the cases like the present one, where some of the appellant-accused are facing the death penalty and some sentence of life imprisonment are strongly deprecated.”
Justice Trivedi, in a separate but concurring order, stated that it is needless to say that the death penalty cases referred by the sessions courts to the high court have to be given utmost priority and should be heard and completed by the high court as expeditiously as possible and preferably within six months.
She said that from the observations made by the high court in the impugned order, which have remained unchallenged before this court, it was only because of the non-cooperation on behalf of the counsels appearing for the accused, the high court was not able to hear the reference case.
“The court may not have to remind the senior advocates of their duties to assist the courts for the cause of justice, and not to indulge into dilatory tactics and hamper the cause of justice,” Justice Trivedi said.
The bench recorded the sequence of event, noting that City Civil and Sessions Court, Chennai for the offences punishable under Section 120-B, 109, 341, 302 read with section 34 of IPC had awarded death penalty to seven convicts and one was awarded life sentence.
The sessions court had referred its judgement and order to the high court for confirmation of the death penalty awarded to some of the accused under Section 366 CrPC. The accused also had filed separate nine appeals before the high court challenging the judgement and order passed by the sessions court in the said case.
The apex court said that the high court after ascertaining the convenience of all the advocates appearing for the parties had fixed the date for final hearing on June 15, 2022 vide the order dated April 27, 2022.
Justice Trivedi said, “On September 14, though the state public prosecutor was ready to argue, one of the senior advocates from Delhi appeared before the high court and requested the court to adjourn the hearing.”
She noted that at that time, the state public prosecutor drew the attention of the high court to a letter dated September 5, 2022 sent by advocate G Sriram appearing for the accused addressed to the Inspector (Law and Order) Abiramapuram Police Station, Chennai, asking him to produce certain documents, stating therein inter-alia that the said documents were required for fair adjudication of their case in the light of the Supreme Court’s decision (in case of Manoj and others versus State of Madhya Pradesh, May 20, 2022).
Justice Trivedi said, “The said letter was placed on record by the state public prosecutor. On the said date i.e., September 14, 2022, the senior advocate who had come from Delhi assured the court that she had discussed with all the counsels who were appearing for the appellants and that all had assured her that they would proceed with the hearing on October 17, 2022.”
The bench noted that the high court apprised her (senior advocate from Delhi) that the case pertained to the sentence of death penalty, which had to be completed within six months and that for the last one year there was no progress in the case on account of non-cooperation of the accused.
“However, she (lawyer from Delhi) repeatedly assured the court that no one would seek adjournment on October 17, 2022, and therefore the high court out of sheer courtesy and respect for the senior advocate adjourned the case to October 17, 2022,” it said.
The bench said that despite such assurance having been given by the senior advocate and all other advocates, including other senior advocates appearing for the other accused, to the high court to proceed with the hearing of the reference case and the appeals, the appellant rushed to this court to hamper the hearing fixed before the high court on October 17, 2022.
“In the aforesaid premises, the attempt made on behalf of the appellant accused and the other accused to delay the hearing of the appeals and the death reference case pending before the high court, under the guise that they had demanded certain documents from the investigating officer was absolutely reprehensible,” it said. PTI MNL MNL KVK KVK