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EDITORIAL ANALYSIS

Jessica Lall murder case: takeaways from acquittal, conviction and release

 

The Editorial covers GS paper 2[Indian Judiciary.]

Model Jessica Lal, Priyadarshini Mattoo's murderers could be ...

Context

  • Manu Sharma, now 43, who was serving a life sentence for the 1999 murder of model Jessica Lall, walked out of jail following the Delhi Lieutenant Governor’s approval for his premature release, as per recommendations by the Sentence Review Board. 

  • A look back at the murder, and the twists and turns during a trial that caught the public imagination:


What is the history of the case?

  • Jessica Lall was murdered on April 29, 1999, at a party at Once Upon a Time Restaurant, owned by socialite Bina Ramani, in Delhi’s Qutub Colonnade.

  • Lall and Shayan Munshi, an actor, were serving liquor.

  • Manu Sharma, son of former Union Minister and Haryana Congress leader Venod Sharma, who was attending the party with friends, asked for two drinks at 2 am. 

  • As the party was over, he was refused. Following an argument, he took out his pistol and fired one shot at the roof and another at Lall, which hit her near the left eye, and fled. 

  • Lall was declared dead in hospital in the early hours of April 30.

  • Mehrauli police station had registered an FIR at 4 am, after recording Munshi’s statement. 

  • The police seized two empty cartridges and found that a black Tata Safari was missing from the party. 

  • The Tata Safari was seized from UP police on May 2. 

  • Three days later, the police arrested Amardeep Singh aka Tony Gill and Alok Khanna. 

  • Following their statements, police reached out to Sharma’s lawyer; on June 6, Sharma surrendered. 

  • The police arrested 10 others including a UP politician’s son, Vikas Yadav.

 

What is the outrage and conviction?

  • The acquittal led to widespread public outrage, following which police submitted a status report to the Delhi High Court, which accepted it and took up a fast-track case. 

  • Sharma was represented by Ram Jethmalani (now deceased) in the Delhi High Court and later in the Supreme Court.

  • On December 18, 2006, the High Court convicted Sharma observing that the trial court judgment was “an immature assessment of material on record which is self-contradictory, based on misreading of material and unsustainable”. 

  • The court sentenced Sharma to life, awarded lesser sentences to Vikas Yadav and Amardeep Gill, and acquitted six others.

  • The High Court rejected the two-weapon theory as a “concoction to the defence and a manipulation of evidence particularly that of Shyam Munshi who, for the first time in court, introduced such a story”.

  • Sharma appealed twice to the Supreme Court.

  • In April 2010, the Supreme Court upheld his conviction and life term.

  • The Supreme Court held that the evidence regarding the incident, the testimonies of witnesses, evidence connecting the vehicles and cartridges to Sharma, as well as his conduct after the incident, proved his guilt beyond reasonable doubt.

  • On Munshi’s statement about “another gentleman” who fired the shot, the Supreme Court said that although he turned hostile, his evidence showed that Sharma was at the scene and this was rightly accepted by the High Court. 

  • Munshi stands accused of lying under oath before the sessions court.


What are the takeaways from the case?

  • The case brought into focus the influence of media coverage. 

  • This was highlighted by the Delhi High Court as well as the Supreme Court. 

  • The Supreme Court observed that various articles in the print media gave rise to unnecessary controversy and “apparently, had an effect of interfering with the administration of criminal justice”. 

  • The Supreme Court held that “presumption of innocence of an accused is a legal presumption and should not be destroyed at the very threshold through the process of media trial and that too when the investigation is pending”.

 

Conclusion

While overturning the acquittal of Sharma, the Delhi High court made observations about the functioning of courts and appreciation of evidence. This led to public criticism of bias in prosecuting powerful people. The Supreme Court said every possible effort should be made and precautions taken which will help in preservation of public faith. Following the conviction by the High Court, a different Bench directed the government to create a witness-protection policy.

 

Source: Indian Express.



 
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