India Loses Extradition Case of UK-Based Couple Accused of Murdering Adopted Son

Though the London high court agreed there was a prima facie case against the Indian-origin couple, the Government of India delayed providing crucial assurances.

London: In a massive blow to India, a couple living in Britain, accused of the kidnapping and murder of a young orphan they adopted in Gujarat to claim his life insurance pay-out, will not be extradited to India.

On Thursday, the high court in London discharged the appeal by India against the decision of the Westminster magistrates’ court’s refusal to extradite the duo to India in July 2019 because of the delays caused by the Government of India in providing the crucial assurances that could have clinched the case in its favour.

The couple outside the high court in London. Photo: Ruhi Khan

Even with India being aware of the significance of the assurances, it failed to provide a relevant and timely assurance to the court. Such delays go against the Criminal Procedure Rules followed by British courts which emphasise ‘expedition at all times’ and that ‘compliance with these directions is essential to ensure that extradition proceedings are dealt with expeditiously’.

While chief magistrate Emma Arbuthnot had found enough evidence to establish a prima facie case against Arti Dhir (54) and Kanwaljit Raijada (30), she ordered against their extradition on the grounds that a law in Gujarat state, that prohibited irreducibility for life sentences for double murder, did not meet with Article 3 of the European Commission for Human Rights.

As Dhir and Raijada were alleged to have killed not just their adopted child but also his brother-in-law, they would be tried for double murder and if convicted, would be sentenced for life. Two days of hearings on January 21 and 22, 2019 in the district court saw defence lawyers raise the issue of human rights in Indian jails. What clinched the case in their favour was evidence provided by Dr V. Suresh, the human rights lawyer who had given evidence from India through video conferencing on the procedures and time frame of such trials. He followed this by his report dated March 24, 2019, where he made it clear that if the defendant were found guilty of culpable homicide, they could still be excluded from considerations of remissions under the 2014 Remission policy of the state of Gujarat.

Also Read: UK Court Refuses to Extradite Indian-Origin Couple Accused of Murdering Adopted Son

Suresh also said that the defendants would then not have right to remission or pardon under Article 72 of the Constitution of India as the crime they are accused of does not fall under either the State List or the Union List of offences that would allow a presidential pardon. India neither challenged Suresh’s testimony nor produced any evidence to contradict it.

This means, if convicted, Dhir and Raijada will receive a sentence of life imprisonment with no possibility of a review either by the State of Gujarat or by the president of India. According to the UK courts, a criminal should have the right to seek parole on good behaviour and offered a chance of redemption.

Delays caused India to lose the case

An assurance from Gujarat offering the duo such a chance would have sealed their return to India. However, India produced an assurance by the government in New Delhi, which was neither satisfactory nor on time, which prompted the district judge to refuse the extradition.

While the judges agreed that the chief magistrate did not give any directions requiring an assurance to be provided at any time, the bench also noted that the Indian government also did not suggest that they “were able to provide any relevant assurance which would meet the irreducible life sentence point” and that two extradition hearings were adjourned because of delays by the government in complying with directions and the third and the final hearing was adjourned part heard to enable the government to deal with irreducible life sentences point.

Last week, the high court heard from Crown Prosecution Service barrister Toby Cadman how delays were inevitable as it required communication between both state and the Central government but failed to convince the court to rethink the district judge’s decision. Cadman also told The Wire that should the court refuse their appeal, they would start fresh extradition proceedings in the case and this would incur additional expenses. The judge said that since the delays were caused by India, it seemed only appropriate if they incurred more costs to pursue this. “Those financial consequences were brought about by the government’s failure to obtain directions regarding assurances or to provide an assurance at an earlier date.”

A piece of paper bearing the solemn promise by the government to consider a reduced sentence for good behaviour, should Dhir and Raijada be convicted for the double murder, was all that was required to extradite them to India. Yet, the government failed to do so.

Arti Dhir. Photo: Facebook

‘This is a serious case’

Dhir is a British citizen while Raijada came to the UK as a student from India and married Dhir. They later adopted a 12-year-old boy called Gopal. The couple got Gopal a life insurance, with a pay out of Rs 1.3 crore in the event of his death. In February 2017, the young boy and his brother-in-law were attacked by masked goons on a road outside Rajkot and died due to injuries sustained. It is alleged that the contract killers were to be paid Rs 5 lakh to kill the boy by the London based couple.

The British courts are well aware of the gravity of this case. Arbuthnot had suggested last year that since the conspiracy of murder was carried out form the UK, a case could be made against them in Britain. Even the London high court accepted that “this is a serious case as is apparent from the careful analysis of the facts carried out by the Chief Magistrate when determining that there was a prima facie case” against both Dhir and Raijada, yet the bench was perplexed why India did not take it seriously. “That means the government should have complied with the directions form the court to avoid unnecessary delays,” the judgement read.

India can bring about extradition proceedings should the law change in Gujarat. They could also apply for a new extradition proceeding and simply give an assurance that the Gujarat state policy of irreducible life sentences would not apply to the duo. Something, which they could have easily done in this case. But now, the government has not just lost this extradition battle but also set two alleged child murderers free.

Lose one, win one

On the same day, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg confirmed that it rejected the interim measure application made by bookie Sanjeev Chawla, accused of the Indo-South Africa cricket match-fixing allegations involving Hansie Cronje, against his extradition to India from the UK. He will now be extradited to India as the high court has set a 28-day deadline from January 23, the day it handed down the judgment in the case, refusing permission to Chawla to appeal against the district judge’s decision to order his extradition.

Today, India has lost one extradition battle but seems to have won another. Vijay Mallya’s extradition hearing in the London high court is due next week and may throw up more surprises.