NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Thursday asked the Punjab and Haryana High Court to decide within five months the appeals of the accused in the O.P. Jindal Global University gang rape case.
A division bench of Justice S.A. Bobde and Justice L.N. Rao said that the two accused -- Hardin Sikri and Karan Chhabra -- will continue to remain in custody while another accused Vikas Garg, who was granted protection from arrest, will continue to be out of jail.
The bench said: "In the interest of justice, we don't propose to discuss on merits of the case, since appeals are pending in the High Court.
"We find it appropriate that two interim orders passed by this court (SC's order staying grant of bail by HC and protection from arrest to Garg)... will remain in force till pending of the appeals."
It added: "We request the Punjab and Haryana High Court to dispose of the appeal as expeditiously as possible, no later than five months. Parties are directed to appear before the High Court on March 6."
The three accused -- Hardin Sikri, Karan Chhabra and Vikas Garg -- were earlier jailed by a trial court for raping a fellow student but the Punjab and Haryana High Court had suspended their conviction and sentence in September last year on the grounds that the woman was "promiscuous" and had "casual sexual escapades".
Challenging the High Court's order of suspension of their sentences, the victim had approached the apex court.
She alleged that the accused have been blackmailing her as they have her objectionable pictures and expressed apprehension that those could get circulated.
During the course of argument on the issue of sharing the iCloud account password with the victim, senior advocate Shanti Bhushan claimed that his client could not remember the password as he was in jail for more than two and a half years and never used the account in iPhone, which was seized by the investigating agency.
Seeking relief for accused Garg, senior advocate Sidhartha Luthra argued that his client was sentenced to seven years jail for rape but not for gang rape and he was on bail during the trial itself.
In January, the apex court had protected Garg from arrest keeping in mind his conduct during the bail period.
On April 11, 2015, the victim had lodged a complaint with the university administration alleging that the three accused final year law students of the university, had been blackmailing and raping her since August 2013.
She had also alleged that the accused were having her objectionable photos and they used to threaten to make the photos viral, and coerced her to have physical relations with them.
In May 2017, the trial court in Sonipat had held the three guilty of the offence and awarded a 20-year sentence each to Sikri and Chhabra and a seven-year jail term to Garg, for gang rape and blackmailing the victim.
Later, in September 2017, the High Court had suspended their sentence and granted them bail against which the victim approached the top court.