A local court has restrained the print and electronic media from publishing any matter relating to the trial in the alleged rape of a nun by Bishop Franco Mulakkal, without its permission. Additional Sessions Judge Gopakumar G issued the order, restraining the media from publishing any matter relating to the trial and procedures of the case, including discussions about the evidence tendered by the witnesses, without the court's previous permission.
The order was passed on a petition by Mulakkal, seeking in camera trial, alleging that the prosecution had leaked to the media a part of the 161 statement of a witness before the preliminary start of the case and the media had started a discussion pertaining to various aspects of it. The Judge said there was nothing on record to show that the prosecution had shared the 161 Statement (statement of witness recorded by police) to the media.
"The statements of the witnesses are information falling within the public domain. Such statements have to be distinguished with the statement given by a victim. The bar is only in revealing the identity of the victim. There is no law that absolutely prohibits publication and discussion about the statement made by a witness other than the victim", the court held, adding the part of the prayer seeking action against the prosecution cannot be allowed.
The court had framed charges against the accused on August 18 this year and the trial of the case has commenced. Since an allegation of rape is involved, the trial has to be conducted in camera, the court observed.
Pointing out that proliferation of the media and the increased competition among the visual media had accelerated coverage of the news, but often at the risk of its accuracy and quality, the court said the opportunity afforded through the visual media to make lengthy discussions about matters over which the panelist and moderators have no direct knowledge, has made the situation "more grim". "The common man often misapprehends their comments as true words.
"Even before the commencement of the trial, a strong public opinion is created against a person, which severely affects the presumption of innocence available to him", the court held. Observing that a criminal trial should as far as possible be made free from all sources of pre-judging, outside the due process of law, the court noted that any widespread perception of guilt or innocence without any objective evaluation of the materials available is nothing but a threat to fair trial. In the said circumstances, taking recourse in the power conferred under Section 327(3)of the CrPC, the court passed the order of restraint.
The Supreme Court on August 5 had directed Mulakkal to face trial, dismissing his plea, seeking discharge in the case. He had challenged the July 7 Kerala High Court order, dismissing his discharge plea.
The High Court had asked the deposed Bishop of Jalandhar diocese to stand for trial in the case, registered on the basis of a complaint filed by the nun. The rape case against the Bishop was registered by police in Kottayam district.
In her complaint to the police in June 2018, the nun had alleged that she was subjected to sexual abuse by the bishop between 2014 and 2016. The Special Investigation team which probed the case, arrested the Bishop and charged him with wrongful confinement, rape, unnatural sex and criminal intimidation.