[Tarun Tejpal case] Advocates should maintain dignity, sensitivity while reading evidence containing intimate details: Bombay High Court

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Advocates and litigants are expected to conduct themselves with dignity, sobriety and sensitivity during hearing of rape cases, particularly when reading evidence containing intimate details, the Bombay High Court recent observed [Tarunjit Tejpal v. State of Goa].

The observation was made by Justices Revati Mohite Dere and MS Jawalkar while rejecting an application filed by former Editor of Tehelka magazine Tarun Tejpal seeking in-camera hearing of the appeal filed by the State of Goa against his acquittal in a sexual assault case.

Senior Advocate Amit Desai appearing for Tejpal had argued that it would be unfair for lawyers if they are forced to curtail their submissions in view of the fact that publications will publish something if due care is not taken.

This apprehension of Desai seemed unjustified to the Bench which clarified that “there is no embargo or restriction on the applicant (Tejpal) to argue his case freely nor his right to argue his case can be curtailed.”

The Bench had in an earlier hearing expressed that lawyers were expected to maintain decorum while reading out evidence, especially in sexual offences.

In the 23-page order rejecting the in-camera hearing, the Bench emphasized, “in proceedings such as these i.e. rape cases in general, it is expected that all parties conduct themselves with dignity, sobriety and some sensitivity that is required, particularly, whilst reading evidence pertaining to intimate details. This, we think is not too much to expect from the Advocates appearing for the respective parties. Maintaining decorum in the courtroom is not merely a superficial means of protecting the image of lawyers and judges – but it is absolutely essential to the administration of justice.”

Tejpal had sought in-camera hearings citing Section 327 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (court to be open) and a recent order of Justice Gautam Patel of Bombay High Court giving directions for in-camera hearings in cases under the Prevention of Sexual Harassment at Workplace Act.

The application was filed by Tejpal after the State of Goa appealed to the Bombay High Court challenging Tejpal’s acquittal by a Sessions Court in the sexual assault case filed by a subordinate employee.

The Bench observed that Justice Patel’s order came in a case under the POSH Act and pertained to allegations of sexual harassment of women at the workplace.

They further reasoned that the said order was passed in a suit and as such, the same will not have a bearing in the present proceedings.

Desai appeared along with advocates Ankur Chawla, Raunaq Rao and Manali Kamat for Tejpal.

The State of Goa was represented by Solicitor-General Tushar Mehta and Advocate-General for Goa Devidas J Pangam with Public Prosecutors Shailendra Bhobe, Francisco Tavora, Pravin Faldessai, Rajat Nair, Kanu Agarwal, VR Solanki and Cyndiana Silva.

Read Order here

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