NEW DELHI: A London judge has refused an application by Nirav Modi’s barrister to have a press blackout on evidence by former Bombay high court judge Justice Abhay Thipsay acting as witness on the billionaire jeweller’s behalf this week.
Nirav’s barrister Clare Montgomery QC made an application to Westminster Magistrates’ Court on Monday for reporting restrictions on Thipsay’s evidence during Nirav’s second extradition hearing, claiming Thipsay had been subjected to “vile allegations” after he gave evidence during the first hearing in May.
Montgomery asked district Judge Samuel Mark Goozée for Thipsay’s evidence to be heard by the court in private or for the reporting to be postponed till the “sting is out of the story” to prevent Nirav from being subjected to “an entirely unfounded critique of his evidence” once again by the Union law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad.
Times of India and other press objected to the application orally in court.
Goozée then refused to sit in private or postpone reporting, pointing out Justice Thipsay had himself engaged with the media in response to the controversy.
Thipsay, who retired as a judge in 2017, gave evidence on May 13 as a witness for Nirav at his first hearing saying that the charges levelled against Nirav by the CBI – namely cheating and criminal conspiracy – would not stand up under Indian law.
The following day Prasad held a press conference where he accused Thipsay of working at the behest of Congress to save Nirav.
Montgomery told the court at that event Prasad “launched an ad hominem attack on Thipsay and his evidence suggesting incompetence and that he was biased and had given evidence at the behest of the Congress party” to protect “an established fraudster.”
She said reporting restrictions were necessary for “order and in the interests of justice” to prevent a further attack on Thipsay.
“The number of papers that ran with story was engineered as result of that press conference,” Montgomery said.
“I would like the press and Indian government to be precluded from a private hearing, but permit lawyers to be there,” she said. “He would rather give a written opinion or have his evidence heard in private or have sufficient reporting restrictions to limit inappropriate commentary on his evidence at least during the hearing.
“What the minister said was plainly contempt. The minister of justice and the solicitor general see nothing wrong in making unfair and unfounded remarks about the proceedings,” she said.
“You do not in middle of hearing make public statements publicly denigrating a witness and disputing their evidence in a way that was not the subject of cross-examination in court and accusing them of bias on behalf of rival party. The law minister sees nothing wrong in his behaviour and claims so long as it was on behalf of BJP you can say whatever you like by way of unfair commentary. This statement provoked a great deal of very hostile press describing his evidence as lies and a disgrace,” Montgomery said.
Personal and family contacts of Thipsay had indicated he should withdraw from the case, Montgomery said. “He didn’t approach a paper rather received several phone messages asking overtly aggressive questions. He is not a politician – he joined Congress 15 months after retirement.”
“It’s my view the press conference was given in political context of BJP and political commentary about the Congress party,” Goozee said, refusing the application. “This is a high profile case in India and I’ve no doubt Thipsay has overseen many high profile cases and entered into the arena with his eyes open.” He pointed out Thipsay had not refused to give evidence, rather had given further evidence for this week and he wanted to be heard in private to prevent being maligned but that did not amount to the exceptional circumstances required to make it private and there was no evidence it would give rise to substantial risk of prejudice to the course of justice. I don’t concern myself about political commentary in India,” Goozee added.
“This happened in a political context, the minister who said it is BJP and Thipsay is a well-known member of Congress. There is zero evidence that what happened afterwards was engineered by the government of India. The methods of expression, hyperbole and level of discussion common in India not what we might see in this country,” Helen Malcom, representing the Crown Prosecution Service, on behalf of the government of India, said.
Nirav is battling extradition to India to face charges of perpetrating a large-scale fraud on Punjab National Bank of between $1 billion and $2 billion (Rs 7,346 crore and Rs 14,693 crore), of laundering some of the proceeds and of interfering with witnesses and destroying evidence.


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