‘Relatives of 3 witnesses in Kathua case can accompany them for recording statements'

NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Thursday allowed three witnesses in Kathua gang rape case and murder to be accompanied by their family members while recording their statement before the Jammu and Kashmir police whenever they are called.

A three-judge bench led by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra brushed aside stiff opposition by Jammu and Kashmir counsel while giving partial relief to the witnesses who are classmates of one of the accused in the case.

The three moved the top court asking for protection after they were summoned again by the police, which want to question them again in the wake of fresh evidence and as part of their continuing investigation in the case. They alleged harassment and torture at the hands of J&K police and wanted permission to let their lawyers be with them at the time of questioning.

The CJI's bench said the witnesses will be accompanied by a relative when called by the police and shall remain at a visible distance. The bench slammed the J&K counsel for even opposing a relative's presence during the questioning.

"Do you want to interrogate them or record their statement? Is there no distinction between interrogation and recording of statement? Do you want statements to be recorded the way you want?" the bench asked senior advocate PS Patwalia and counsel Shoeb Alam, appearing for J&K government.

Patwalia and Alam said an order in favour of the witnesses, at this juncture, will embolden them. They said the witnesses leveled the allegations for the first time and never had such a grievance when they recorded their statements earlier before a magistrate. "The forensic report has nailed their lie. They are apprehensive that they will be exposed. This (application for protection) is an effort to deflect the investigation," they said.

Patwalia submitted the police investigation is a continuing one and a supplementary charge sheet will be filed in the case. CJI Misra told Patwalia the court was not concerned about the investigation.

"We have protected the right of the victims and transferred the case. We did not change the investigating agency. They (witnesses) are young boys. There should be no problem if they want to go with their relatives," CJI Misra said.

Patwalia responded: "This (relatives accompanying) would hamper the investigation. Nobody will be murdered (while recording statement)."

Senior Advocate Arvind Datar appearing for the petitioners said they were coerced to make a statement contrary to the fact that accused was with them for the exam in Miranpur, Muzzafarnagar, Uttar Pradesh.

"During that period, he along with petitioners attended examinations and practical papers."

The petitioners have alleged that they were subjected to physical and mental torture between March 19 and March 31, 2018 by the police. The matter has now been listed for hearing in the first week of July.

On May 7, the Supreme Court had transferred the trial in the Kathua gangrape and murder case of an eight-year-old girl from Jammu and Kashmir to Pathankot in Punjab, but refrained from handing over the probe to CBI saying there was no need as the investigation has been conducted and the chargesheet filed.


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