The Bombay High Court on Wednesday rejected journalist Tarun Tejpal’s application seeking an in-camera hearing of the proceedings challenging his acquittal in a 2013 rape case.
The acquittal of the former editor-in-chief of Tehelka magazine, who was accused of sexually assaulting his then woman colleague in the lift of a five-star hotel in Goa in November 2013, by a sessions court in May this year was challenged in the Goa bench of the HC by the state government.
On Wednesday, a bench of Justices Revati Mohite Dere and M S Jawalkar rejected Mr Tejpal’s application for conducting an in-camera hearing of the proceedings under section 327 of the CrPC.
Advocate Amit Desai, who appeared for Mr Tejpal, referred to the Law Commission and various judgments of high courts supporting his application for an in-camera hearing.
“I can’t be restrained because my right to appeal and argue the matter before the lordship in an effective manner cannot be curtailed merely because all the time I would be looking over my shoulder and afraid that somebody outside is going to listening and writing about this matter,” Mr Desai said.
Mr Tejpal’s lawyer said his client might have to say something which might expose certain facts in relation which should not be published in the media. “But my fundamental right to defend myself cannot be taken away in this matter,” he argued.
“Section 327 gives rise to complete prohibition on publication of proceedings. Once there is a complete prohibition, and that constitutes a contempt, the lordship will see that those provisions are applied when they are in-camera,” Mr Desai told the bench.
He argued that the identity of the accused in an appeal against the acquittal is equally important to be protected like that of the victim.
“Section 327, being a mandate of the statute and obligation of the Constitution, it is the duty of the court to protect both the parties. And no prejudice is caused to the parties and proceedings if it is held in-camera,” he said.
Solicitor General of India Tushar Mehta, representing the Goa government, argued that the judgment (of acquittal of Tejpal) by the district court is in the public domain.
“Section 327 applies for the purpose of inquiring into or trying any offence. It has limited application during inquiry or trial. The appeal is something very clear. Appeals, revisions etc are neither investigation nor inquiry nor a trial,” he said.
The bench said the application stands rejected.
The revision petition filed by the state government will be heard on December 6, it said.
In its order in May this year, the Mapusa district and sessions court had held that the complainant had not shown the “kind of normative behaviour” expected from a “victim of sexual assault”. The court had granted Tejpal the “benefit of the doubt” in the absence of corroborative evidence to support the allegations made by the complainant.
Challenging Mr Tejpal’s acquittal, the state government had said that the court’s judgement was “coloured by prejudice and patriarchy”.