National Herald case: SC frees Sonia, Rahul from personal appearance

Refusing to quash the criminal proceedings against Congress president Sonia Gandhi and vice president Rahul Gandhi in the politically charged National Herald case, the Supreme Court on Friday gave them some respite by granting them exemption from personal appearance in the trial court.

The mother-son duo was directed to appear in the trial court on 20 February. The relief, however, came only after the SC bench took a dig at the two for their show of strength and support on 19 December 2015 when they marched to the Patiala House courtroom accompanied by top party leaders and hundreds of workers, paralysing the flow of traffic around the court complex and causing inconvenience to other litigants. They also marched out within five minutes after securing bail on that day.

When the petitioner, BJP leader Subramanian Swamy, objected to the plea by senior lawyer Kapil Sibal for granting exemption from appearance to Sonia and Rahul, Justice J S Khehar, in an apparent reference to the party's show of strength in the court complex, observed, "There is going to be more chaos when they go to court than if they do not go to court."

Swamy then told the court, "I had gone alone only."

Even in the dictated order, the bench noted that the exemption can be given as not granting it would result in "more inconvenience than convenience".

Refusing the plea for quashing proceedings, the bench asked Sibal and Abhishek Manu Singhvi to raise all their objections and contentions in the trial court before framing of charges.

The judges gave partial relief to Sonia and Rahul by expunging "all interpretations and conclusions on factual aspects of the case and their criminal intent" made by the Delhi High Court single judge bench while dismissing their plea to quash the trial court summons.

"We are of the view that it was not for the high court to record its final conclusion. The same should have been left to the trial court," said the court.

In its 7 December 2015 order the Delhi High Court said it was " of the view that the gravity of the allegations levelled against petitioners (Sonia, Rahul and others) has a fraudulent flavour involving a national political party and so, serious imputations smacking of criminality levelled against petitioners need to be properly looked into".

"The sum and substance of the allegations levelled against petitioners cannot be brushed aside by merely saying that at best it is a case of takeover of Associated Journal Ltd and the remedy lies in invoking the provisions of the Company Act," the high court had added.

The BJP termed the Supreme Court order as a slap on the face of the Congress leadership.