Jeyaraj (L) and his son Bennix (R) died while in the custody of the Sathankulam Police following their arrest on June 19 citing a violation of the COVID-19 curfew
Jeyaraj (L) and his son Bennix (R) died while in the custody of the Sathankulam Police following their arrest on June 19 citing a violation of the COVID-19 curfew
Litigation News

[Sathankulam Custodial Deaths] Madras HC makes appeal against media trial, urges that no one should intervene only for the sake of publicity

The Bench orally remarked that the concern was to avoid allowing persons to intervene only for the sake of publicity which would "dilute the purpose" of the suo motu case.

Meera Emmanuel

The Madras High Court on Thursday commenced its hearing in the suo motu case concerning the deaths of Jeyaraj and Bennix while in the custody of the Sathankulam Police by urging the media, including social media, to refrain from misreporting court proceedings or conducting a media trial in the case.

The Bench of Justices M Sathyanarayanan and P Rajamanickam issued the cautionary note while voicing concern that such media trials may affect both the prosecution and the accused in the case.

The Court also added that if any party wanted to intervene in the suo motu matter for rendering legal assistance to the Bench, a formal intervention application had to be filed.

The Bench orally remarked that the concern was to avoid allowing persons to intervene only for the sake of publicity which would "dilute the purpose" of the suo motu case.

During the proceedings this afternoon, two related PILs were taken up the Bench. One PIL was moved seeking the constitution of an Special Investigation Team (SIT) to conduct a probe into the matter. Whereas the Court issued notice on this plea, it orally observed that in the past, SITs were not of much help to the victims in a case.

In this regard, the Court pointed to the example of the Sankara Subbu case, which involved the death of a lawyer's son and where an SIT had been tasked to conduct a probe after the CBI failed to solve the case.

While the counsel for the petitioner admitted that the SIT did not produce any fruitful results, he urged that an SIT may be contituted to function under the supervision of the High Court in this case.

This plea also sought for the grant of Rs 1 crore as compensation to the family of Jeyaraj and Bennix. In response, the State through AAG Chellapandian informed the Court that a Rs 20 lakh compensation has already been sanctioned.

The Court was also appraised of the progress so far in the case, which was being handled by the CB-CID until the CBI took over the probe.

The Court was told that 10 persons have been arrested in the case by the CB-CID so far, including Murugan, SI Balakrishnan, Inspector Sridhar, SI Raghu Ganesh, Muthuraj Chelladurai, Samidurai, Thomas Francis, Velmuthu and Pauldurai.

The Bench was further informed that the CBI has now registered cases under Section 176 (1-A), CrPC in the matter, with the suspected offences mentioned including illegal detention, murder and destruction of evidence.

Appearing for the CBI, ASG Kathirvel told the Court that a team of nearly 7 officers will be arriving at Madurai tomorrow to take the case further.

The Court, in its order, directed that the CBI may apply for the custody of the persons arrested in the case within 15 days. It also directed that the materials seized by the CB CID in its investigation may be used by the CBI for its probe.

Inter alia, the Court also recorded the State's submission today that it would file a status report in the case in a sealed cover. During the hearing, the Bench emphasised that this status report must be comprehensive and cover all the events that took place in the police station, the hospital and the sub-jail as well.

The case has been posted to be taken up next on July 28.

Another plea concerning the guidelines to be followed in registration of FIR and arrest of persons, as per the Lalita Kumari case, was also taken up today. The petitioner alleged that the police had not initially registered an FIR on a complaint made by the victims' family on June 23.

The Bench observed that the suo motu case registered by the High Court in the matter is comprehensive enough to cover all such aspects and queried if there was a need for entertaining multiple pleas on the same cause of action.

With this oral observation, the Court closed the PIL while granting the petitioner the option to file an application to intervene in the suo motu case.

Last month, the Madurai Bench decided suo motu to monitor the case, which involves allegations of police brutality including sexual abuse, a mechanical remand by the judicial magistrate and inadequate medical treatment leading to the deaths of Jeyaraj and Bennix.

A judicial inquiry into the custodial deaths, under Section 176, CrPC, is being conducted by the Judicial Magistrate No. 1, Kovilpatti, who had earlier also informed the Court of intimidatory tactics allegedly deployed by the local police officers during the conduct of the inquiry.

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