The Kerala high court on Tuesday dismissed actor Dileep's plea opposing further probe in the 2017 actress assault case and permitted the Crime Branch to go ahead with its investigation.
Justice Kauser Edappagath said that once additional materials or fresh information pertaining to a crime are received, even after filing of the charge sheet or final report, it is the right and duty of the police to inquire into the same and find out if there is any truth in it.
"This statutory right and duty of the police cannot be circumscribed without any valid reason," the court said.
It, however, directed the investigating agency to complete the further probe and file a report "as expeditiously as possible, at any rate, not later than April 15".
The high court said that the Supreme Court had fixed February 15, 2022, for completing the trial in the case and the time limit has already expired.
It also noted the contention of the agency, represented by director general of prosecution T A Shaji and additional public prosecutor P Narayanan, that three more months are required to complete the further probe and the 38 points for investigation identified by the Crime Branch.
"Considering the entire facts and circumstances of the case, and also considering the remaining part of the further investigation to be carried out as revealed from the submission of the learned Director General of Prosecution and the report submitted in a sealed cover, I am of the view that it would be just and proper if the investigating agency is given time till April 15, 2022 to complete the further investigation," the judge said.
"The investigating agency can go on with the further investigation. However, it shall complete the further investigation and file the further report as expeditiously as possible, at any rate, not later than April 15," the court added.
The actor, represented by senior advocate B Raman Pillai and advocates Philip T Varghese and Thomas T Varghese, had contended that the further investigation was a "sham" and an attempt to further delay the trial of the case.
Dileep had also contended that further investigation in that case was not permissible as a final report had been filed in November 2017, charges were framed in January 2020 and only one prosecution witness -- one of the investigating officers -- remained to be examined.
He had also contended that no prior permission of the trial court was taken before initiating the further probe.
Disagreeing with the actor's contentions, the high court said the mere fact that there may be further delay in concluding the trial should not stand in the way of further investigation.
"The hands of the investigating agency should not be tied down on the ground of mere delay as the ultimate object is to arrive at the truth.
"There is no restriction on the power of the investigating officer to conduct further investigation after the commencement of the trial of the case," the court said.
It further said that further probe was the "privilege and prerogative of the investigating officer".
"Permission for it is only a formality. It is only as a matter of courtesy that the investigating officer is required to inform the court regarding the further investigation so as to enable the court to decide the further action to be taken in the case," the court said in its 42-page judgment dismissing Dileep's plea.
It also said that the actor has not been able to establish that the further probe was frivolous, vexatious, or maliciously initiated with an ulterior motive for wreaking vengeance on the accused or that it was barred by law or that there was any abuse of power by the investigating agency.
The court, however, made it clear that it was not saying anything with regard to the truthfulness or reliability of the disclosures made by Balachandra Kumar or as to the genuineness, relevance or acceptability of any material collected by the investigating agency so far in the ongoing further investigation.
During the proceedings, the probe agency had told the court that there was no legal bar or impediment in carrying out further investigation in the 2017 actress assault case merely because the trial was at its fag end and added that no prior permission was required for it.
The actress-victim, who has worked in Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam films, was abducted and allegedly molested in her car for two hours by some persons who had forced their way into the vehicle on the night of February 17, 2017 and later escaped in a busy area. The entire act was filmed by those persons to blackmail the actress.
There are 10 accused in the 2017 case and police have arrested seven. Dileep was arrested subsequently and released on bail.