The Supreme Court on Tuesday expressed its displeasure at the attempt by the Bilkis Bano gang rape convicts to avoid the present bench from hearing the case challenging their remission 

A bench of Justices KM Joseph and BV Nagarathna said that it was quite clear that the attempt by the lawyers for the convicts was to avoid the present bench, since Justice Joseph, who is heading the bench, is due to retire soon.

The bench made the remark in the context of counsel for the convicts seeking adjournment to file their counter-affidavits, and some of them alleging that service of notice had not been completed as alleged by counsel for the petitioner.

“It is clear what is being attempted. I am retiring retiring on June 16 and my last working day is on May 19. It is obvious you do not want this bench to hear the case. You (lawyers) are officers of the court (first), do not forget that role. You may win or lose a case but do not forget your duty,” Justice Joseph remarked.

The bench was considering a batch of pleas challenging the decision of the Gujarat government to grant remission to 11 convicts who had gang-raped Bilkis Bano and murdered her family members during the 2002 riots.

The Court had issued notice in the case in March. At the time, the Court said that the crime against Bano and her family members was a horrendous one, but underscored that the matter will be decided on the basis of law.

On August 25 last year, the top court sought the response of the Gujarat government on some of the pleas.

The 11 convicts who were set free are Jaswant Nai, Govind Nai, Shailesh Bhatt, Radhyesham Shah, Bipin Chandra Joshi, Kesarbhai Vohania, Pradeep Mordhiya, Bakabhai Vohania, Rajubhai Soni, Mitesh Bhatt and Ramesh Chandana.

During latest hearing, Solicitor General (SG) Tushar Mehta, appearing for both the Central and State governments, questioned the maintainability of the public interest litigation (PILs) petitions challenging the remission.

He said that hearing PILs on such an issue would set a bad precedent.

“Matter concerns 11 remissions. If petitions by X,Y and Z are allowed then it will lay down a bad position of law. Not only in this case, it should not become a precedent,” he said.

He, thus, requested the Court to first hear the governments on the locus of the petitioners (apart from Bano) to file such PILs.

The Court then said that it will first hear the plea of Bilkis Bano.

Counsel for one of the convicts alleged that Bano’s counsel, advocate Shobha Gupta, did not complete service on his client and lied about the same on affidavit. Hence, he sought to file a counter on the ‘fraud’ played.

Gupta, however, maintained that service was completed. The Court thereafter asked the advocate to file his counter and said that it will begin hearing the case. The Court granted him two weeks’ time to file the same.

The Court then questioned how some counsel were appearing without a vakalatnama, and granted them time to obtain the same.

Thereafter, Gupta requested that the matter be fixed for hearing next week.

The Court took note of the SG’s submission that the union and State government will not file a review petition against the order of the Court asking for the remission files to be produced as indicated during the previous hearing.

The bench listed the matter on May 9 for further directions, stating that it would give a definite date for hearing after the top court’s upcoming summer