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KOCHI: The Kerala high court on Wednesday dismissed the plea of Cardinal Mar George Alencherry, major archbishop of Syro Malabar Church, seeking exemption from personal appearance for the trial in the cases related to church land-sale row.

The court said the cardinal was not entitled to any special privileges and granting any such privilege would send a wrong message to society.

Justice Ziyad Rahman AA considered a total of seven petitions (NCN 2022/KER/61669) filed by the cardinal challenging the orders of the Judicial First Class Magistrate Court, Kakkanad insisting personal appearance for the trial and alleging non-consideration of applications seeking exemption from personal appearance, even for the first time.

While denying the cardinal’s plea, the high court not only said granting such exemption in view of the petitioner’s position would send a wrong signal to the society, it would lead to people losing faith in the administration of justice.

The petitioner’s position does not entitle him to any special privileges when he is brought before a court of law as an accused and he is required to face the proceedings just like any other citizen, the court said.

“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 high court’s judgment said.

Further, the court pointed out that the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) does not distinguish between ordinary citizens and persons holding superior positions in their religious, political, social, or other institutions.

The principle of equality before the law, under Article 14, is not only applicable while seeking enforcement of rights but also in proceedings for violating the law, the court added while ruling that the demands of the cardinal are devoid of merit.

While the magistrate court has the power to grant an exemption, it can only be exercised in rare cases in which the accused would face extreme hardship if required to appear in person, the high court said. Citing the cardinal’s contention that he has to attend meetings all over the world as part of his administrative function, the court said it indicates that there is no physical difficulty in appearing before the court.

The court also noted that the cardinal’s residence is within the territorial jurisdiction of the lower court and only around three kilometres away from the court complex.

As personal appearance is mandatory, the cardinal cannot contend that he has a vested right to get an exemption, the court said.

There is no exceptional circumstance in the petitioner’s case and, therefore, there is no justification in demanding that his application seeking exemption has to be considered by the lower court, the high court added.


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