National Human Rights Commission Chairperson Justice A S Anand on Tuesday said the acquittal of all the accused in the Jessica Lal murder case raised many issues of great consequence on the role of civil society in punishment of crime and the need for witness protection.
Complete Coverage: Jessica Lal Case
"Primarily, we need to take effective steps for dealing with witnesses turning hostile today," the former chief justice told PTI. Again, keeping in view the collapse in forensic evidence and witness volte-face in the case, Anand said better scientific investigation techniques and witness protection programme were the need of the hour.
"Some of these issues have been raised by the NHRC in the Best Bakery case and a public interest litigation is pending consideration in the Supreme Court," he informed.
He said the Delhi High court ought to have waited for the copy of the judgement in the Jessica Lal case to come out instead of taking cognisance solely on the basis of news reports.
Asked if the media's response to the verdict amounted to a trial by the press, he said, "An undirected media flush with all sorts of comments may finally prove to be counter-productive in the case. Restrained media observations will help more."
On whether the NHRC proposed to intervene in the case and its fallout, Anand said he will have to go through the judgement before deciding on the course of action. The seven-year-old case had drawn to a close on February 28 with Additional Sessions Judge S L Bhayana - since then elevated to Delhi High court - acquitting main accused Manu Sharma, son of Haryana Minister Vinod Sharma, and seven others on the ground that police failed to prove the case.
Others acquitted included Vikas Yadav, son of Uttar Pradesh politician D P Yadav, and main accused in another sensational case of the murder of Nitish Katara. The prosecution had in vain arrayed over a hundred witnesses, including prominent Delhi socialite Bina Ramani and her family, at whose party the incident had occurred.
Main eyewitness, model-turned-actor Shayan Munshi, also turned the tables on the police by turning hostile in court along with eyewitnesses Karan Rajput and Shiv Das, the restaurant's electrician. The prosecution had alleged that Jessica was shot dead by Manu Sharma at the Tamarind Court restaurant owned by Bina Ramani at Qutub Colonnade in south Delhi on the night of April 29-30, 1999.
It was alleged that the victim, who was working as a bartender, was shot by Manu alias Siddharth Vashisht as she had refused to serve him liquor at the party. Noting the shoddy manner in which the Delhi Police had conducted the investigations into the case, a division bench of Justice Vijender Jain and Justice Rekha Sharma had also issued notice to the city police Commissioner to file a detailed note on the case and posted the matter for hearing to April 19.