Wheels of justice delivery cannot come to a grinding halt because of COVID-19: Kerala HC junks Franco Mulakkal's plea to defer trial
"The apprehension expressed by the learned counsel for the petitioner in the wake of the rampant spread of Covid-19 is well-founded. But, it is high time for us to accept this reality and move on with ...
Wheels of justice delivery cannot come to a grinding halt because of COVID-19: Kerala HC junks Franco Mulakkal's plea to defer trial
Bishop Franco Mulakkal Image source: Twitter

Yesterday, the Kerala High Court dismissed disgraced Catholic Bishop Franco Mulakkal's plea seeking that his trial be deferred in light of the COVID-19 pandemic (Franco Mulakkal v. State of Kerala).

In his order, Justice VG Arun emphasized on the need to move on with proceedings even amid the pandemic.

"The apprehension expressed by the learned counsel for the petitioner in the wake of the rampant spread of Covid-19 pandemic is well-founded. But, it is high time for us to accept this reality and move on with our affairs. In any case, the wheels of the justice delivery system cannot be permitted to come to a grinding halt by reason of the pandemic."

He went on to opine:

"In my considered opinion, it would be in the interest of all concerned to see that the case attains finality at the earliest."
Kerala High Court

The trial, which began at a Court in Kottayam September, was halted after the complainant's examination. Mulakkal prayed that the cross-examination in the case be deferred until after the pandemic. The prayer was made on the ground that the senior counsel in the case was a senior citizen and suffered from age-related ailments that made him susceptible to a coronavirus infection. Further, he resided at Ernakulam and had to travel to reach Kottayam, it was argued.

Taking this into consideration, the Trial Court deferred the cross examination and the remainder of the trial to October 5 (Monday). It was however emphasized that no further adjournment would be permitted.

Aggrieved, Mulakkal approached the Kerala High Court seeking a longer adjournment of the trial. Advocate Philip T Varghese, appearing for Mulakkal argued that the Trial Court had failed to consider "ground realities" while refusing Mulakkal's prayer for a longer adjournment.

At least, breathing time ought to have been granted for arranging accommodation and other facilities, it was argued.

"The Court is showing undue haste by insisting to proceed with the trial."

Advocate Philip T Varghese, for Franco Mulakkal

The counsel insisted that only the Senior Advocate engaged by Mulakkal could cross-examine the complainant effectively since he was involved in the case from the very beginning. If he were unable to continue defending Mulakkal for the remainder of the trial, serious prejudice would be caused to the petitioner, the counsel argued.

Special Government Pleader Ambika Devi submitted that the Trial Court had applied its mind effectively, balancing the various factors, including the survivor's safety. Apart from this, the Court was equipped to conduct the trial via Video Conferencing, she asserted.

"... the de facto complainant is being provided round the clock protection due to threat from various quarters, which is yet another reason to complete her cross-examination without delay."

Ambika Devi, Special Government Pleader

Rejecting Mulakkal's submissions, the High Court stated that mandate of the Code of Criminal Procedure indicated the legislature's intention to retsrict adjournments in a trial.

Since a period of close to two weeks had elapsed between the complainant's Chief Examination and the scheduled cross-examination, there had been sufficient time to make arrangements for accommodation, if needed.

Finding that the Court had effectively taken in to account all the variables when adjourning the trial, the High Court dismissed Mulakkal's application.

"In situations like this, it is for the court to balance various factors like convenience of the counsel, the mandate of the Code, the situation in which the victim and other witnesses are placed etc. The trial court having done such balancing act to perfection, by adjourning the cross-examination by two weeks, I find no reason to interfere with that decision", the High Court said.

On these terms, Mulakkal's application was dismissed.

In her complaint, the complainant has alleged that she was raped multiple times by the Bishop, who threatened to have her killed if she made the incidents known.

Mulakkal had applied to the Additional Sessions Judge-1 (Kottayam) for a discharge under the Criminal Procedure Code, on the ground that he was falsely implicated and that there were no grounds to proceed further against him. This application was dismissed in March this year.

The High Court, while dismissing the discharge plea, observed that a discharge plea can be allowed only where there are glaring circumstances to show that the prosecution has not produced sufficient material to proceed against the accused.

In August, the Supreme Court echoed the High Court's ruling that his discharge petition was devoid of merit and refused admission.

Read the Order here:

Franco Mulakkal v. State of Kerala - Final Order dated October 1.pdf
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