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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.
He went on to opine:
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.
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.
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.
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: