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Court Cuts: How Indira Jaising turned a likely vac bench disappointment into at least a minor media victory against sexual violence

Jaising presses vac benches to at least discuss thorny issue of sexual offences
Jaising presses vac benches to at least discuss thorny issue of sexual offences

Senior advocate, Indira Jaising, amicus curiae in the case of Nipun Saxena v Union of India, was elated when Justice JS Khehar and Justice C Nagappan asked her and the UOI counsel on 2 May whether they would have time to attend to the case, if listed during the vacation.

The case, dealing with the prayer of about six petitions, to direct the UOI to take effective steps to contain sexual offences, has been pending since 2012, and Jaising, appointed as amicus in the case in 2015 by the erstwhile social justice bench, was keen to make rapid progress with the case. With the UOI consenting for a hearing during the vacation, she imagined that a dedicated bench would be set up to hear the case during the vacation.

Thus when the matter was last listed before justices Abhay Manohar Sapre and Ashok Bhushan on 18 May, both the bench and the counsel were surprised about the very listing of the case before the vacation bench, as neither could be convinced about the case's urgency to justify a hearing by the vacation bench.

Jaising had to explain to the judges how a different bench was hearing the matter, and how it directed its listing during the vacation, after getting the parties’ consent, so that its hearing could be expedited. Agreeing with the bench that the matter deserved detailed hearing, she agreed for a brief adjournment of the case to 26 May.

Today, when the matter came up before another vacation bench, comprising justices Prafulla C Pant and DY Chandrachud, Jaising had to go through the ritual of explaining how it came to be listed during the vacation, all over again, to the bench, which appeared clueless.

When she realised that the bench was not in a mood to give the matter a detailed hearing today with its eyes fixed on other pending matters on the causelist, she managed to make at least a few points across to the bench, ensuring that the bench with some observations that would eventually get reported in the media, so that the matter remains very much in the public discourse.

The bench, seemingly taken by surprise by her going ahead with her submissions on her IA No 7, however, gave her a patient hearing, lasting for about 30 minutes. The UOI counsel, Ashok Panda, sought time for the Centre and the States to respond to her suggestions.

Jaising made the most out of this opportunity by articulating her views on the national register of convicted sex offenders, which she disfavoured on the ground of privacy, and recidivism of juvenile criminals, the disparities in the sexual offences victims compensation schemes of the state Governments, absence of any provision for interim compensation to the victims in most States, absence of effective witness protection schemes like the one adopted in Delhi, the unspent Nirbhaya fund, etc.

The bench too endorsed her views during the hearing, by making its own observations. Justice Chandrachud alluded that by keeping the Nirbhaya Fund unspent, the Government was only paying lip service to it.

The bench then gave six weeks to the State Governments to respond to her IA 7 in the matter, effectively adjourning it to post-vacation.

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