New Delhi: Delhi judge Dharmesh Sharma will be in the spotlight for the next couple of months as he sets out to hold a daily trial in the Unnao rape case. But if the past record of this District Judge at Tis Hazari Courts is anything to go by, the trial will also make headlines like the horrific crime.
On Thursday, the Supreme Court transferred the four Unnao cases from CBI Court, Lucknow to Delhi in suo motu proceedings, and directed Sharma to finish the trial in 45 days.
Until now, Sharma has passed some crucial judgments, especially those related to crimes against children and women, while hearing cases under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act as well as divorce pleas in family court.
Case of marital rape
In a rare judgment in February last year, Sharma had adjudged marital rape in a divorce case where the husband was seeking separation from his wife over allegations that she deserted him and put him through cruelty. Sharma was presiding as judge in a family court.
The court ruled that it was the husband who was inflicting abuse and humiliation on his wife by committing extreme acts of sexual abuse and domestic violence.
“Although in our country marital rape is not considered as an offence, it constitutes inflicting mental cruelty as it connotes lack of respect, dignity and sensitivity towards the wife and violates the right to life and liberty as enshrined in the Constitution of India,” Sharma had said.
In one of his more controversial judgments, Sharma observed that consensual sex with a minor, aged below 18 years, does not constitute an offence under POCSO. The August 2013 ruling had drawn criticism from women and child rights activists.
On 19 September 2017, Sharma had ordered a woman’s octogenarian husband, who reportedly married twice later, to pay her a monthly maintenance of Rs 50,000.
Recording POCSO cases
During his stint as a member-secretary of the Delhi Legal Services Authority (DLSA), some changes were initiated to improve the justice delivery system, especially in cases related to sexual offence.
A pre-litigation mediation centre for matrimonial cases was established at a Crime Against Women Cell in Nanakpura area. Sharma had also proposed computerisation of records related to POCSO cases in the Capital’s district courts.
He suggested developing software that will generate data to “present a true picture to the legislature, media and public, and also carry out a legal audit of the entire justice delivery system reflecting upon the workings of various stakeholders – mainly police, prosecution courts, NGOs, forensic and medical departments, etc.”
Judge who takes the metro home
Among the legal fraternity, Sharma is someone who not only hears cases “very carefully and reasons out orders” but also an “honest and simple man who takes the metro home” sometimes.
“Sharma is one among few judicial officials who can be seen travelling in the Delhi Metro. He had once refused to make stay arrangements at a luxury hotel in Delhi for his guests,” said a senior advocate of the Supreme Court, who did not wish to be named.
“Sharma said it was too expensive and that he couldn’t afford it,” added the SC lawyer.
A Delhi University (DU) alumnus, Sharma had pursued his B.Com (Hons) in 1984 from Kirori Mal College following which he did his LLB from Campus Law Centre, DU, in 1987. He was appointed as a cadre of the Delhi judicial officers in October 1992.
Apart from POCSO cases, Sharma had also presided over matters related to the CBI in the Patiala House Courts from 2011 to April. Some other cases that he has heard till date are related to the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) Act, Foreign Exchange Regulation Act and the Food Safety and Standard Act.
Talking to ThePrint, a lawyer who spoke on the condition of anonymity said that Sharma’s experience in dealing with both CBI and POCSO cases with honesty and integrity had perhaps made the SC choose him to handle the Unnao incidents. The disposal rates of cases under him have also been relatively quicker.