The Supreme Court today refused to vacate its stay on suspension of a 20-year sentence awarded to two convicts in a case of gangrape at a Haryana private university and directed the high court to decide their appeals in five months.
The top court observed that peculiarity of this gangrape case was that the accused had remained in jail throughout the trial, and once they were convicted by the trial court, they were released by the Punjab and Haryana High Court.
A bench of Justices S A Bobde and L Nageswara Rao said its interim order of stay on the suspension of the sentence will continue till the convicts' appeals are decided.
In the interest of justice, we do not propose to discuss the merits of the case as the appeals are pending in the high court. We find it appropriate that two interim orders passed by this court will remain in force till pending of the appeals. We request the high court to hear and decide the appeal not later than five months. Parties are directed to appear before the high court on March 6, the bench said.
However, the top court granted relief to the third convict, who was awarded seven- year jail term and said that his bail order will continue till the appeals are decided in five months.
The bench's order came on a plea of the victim challenging the high court order suspending the sentence awarded to the convicts in the case by the trial court.
During the hearing, senior advocate Shanti Bhushan, appearing for one of the accused, said the victim during the trial was given an iCloud password and she had deleted the photographs and no obscene pictures were found.
Senior advocate Colin Gonsalves, appearing for the victim, said there was a hard disk in which the pictures were stored and also a Whatsapp group through which the photographs were circulated.
"The substance of the matter before us is not the guilt but it is the suspension of the sentence. You have argued earlier that they (convicts) have threatened you (victim)," the bench said.
The top court told Bhushan that it is considering directing the high court to decide the matter in three to six months and would not allow the high court order of suspending the sentences of convicts to continue, till the disposal of appeals.
Bhushan said the courts can take any step in this regard.
The court asked Bhushan to cite any precedent in which the accused were in jail during trial and released on being convicted for an offence.
The bench then directed the high court to decide the appeals in five months.
The trial court had awarded 20-year imprisonment to the two convicts for various offences under the Indian Penal Code, including gang rape and criminal conspiracy, and the provisions of the Information Technology Act. The third accused was awarded a seven-year jail term after being convicted in the case.
The apex court had on February 7 said it cannot tolerate "continuous blackmail" and asked the convicts to share the password of iCloud, where they had allegedly stored the obscene photographs of the woman.
'iCloud' is a mobile application used for storing data, including photographs, videos, documents and music, and it is tough to hack it without a password.
The woman had claimed in the FIR that she had taken admission in the private university in Sonepat in August 2013 and got acquainted with one of them.
She had alleged that the convicts, who became good friends, raped and forced her to send her obscene pictures and blackmailed her.
The woman claimed that the two others also raped her at the university campus after which she lodged an FIR in April 2015.
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