HC grants bail to Abhaya case accused, raps CBI


THE Kerala High Court on Thursday granted conditional bail to Catholic priests Thomas M Kottoor, Jose Puthrukakyil and Sister Seffy arrested in the Sister Abhaya murder case while coming down heavily on the CBI, doubting that the probe had deviated from the right track.

Justice K Hema allowed bail to the three on the conditions that they should not use mobile or land phones, should surrender their passports with the Chief Judicial Magistrate, inform the court about their place of residence, not try to influence the witnesses and co-operate with the CBI investigation.

Though the CBI had taken strong exception to the court demand to examine the case diary, the judge said Section 172 of the Criminal Procedure Code gave it the right to look into the case diary. The court said though the present team can continue the probe, a senior, efficient, officer should oversee the probe.

Earlier, the CBI had pleaded with Chief Justice that the bail application should be moved out of Justice Hema's court as she was "prejudiced towards the case".

On Thursday, CBI counsel A V S Namboothiri said the agency would move the Supreme Court against the verdict.

Meanwhile, legal experts said the "unusual" bail conditions appears to infringe on the fundamental rights of the accused. Expressing surprise at the HC asking the accused not to make or receive telephone calls, Law Commission of India member Dr Tahir Mahmood said, "It is definitely an unprecedented innovation. Restrictions, which the court imposes while releasing the accused persons, have to be reasonable."

Retired Delhi HC judge R S Sodhi said that by imposing such conditions courts sound as if they were doing a favour while granting bail. "No condition must be harsh enough so as to make the provision of bail itself onerous and futile," felt the former judge who had heard appeals in the Jessica Lall and Priyadarshini Mattoo murder cases. Justice Sodhi said "the courts have the discretion to impose certain reasonable restrictions ensuring that it does not infringe upon the investigating rights for the clean and fair trial." At the same time, he warned, courts must ensure that it must never be infringing upon the fundamental rights of the accused persons, like right of speech.

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