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SC scans Salman conviction stay

New Delhi, July 9: The Supreme Court today sought Salman Khan’s response on a Rajasthan government appeal against the high court’s suspension of his conviction in a blackbuck hunting case.

A bench of Justices S.J. Mukhopadhaya and S.A. Bobde asked the actor, sentenced to five years in the 1998 case by a trial court, to file his response within four weeks.

The state has contended that the suspension, ordered on the ground that the actor was unable to travel abroad because of the stigma of conviction, was “erroneous” and set a “bad precedent”.

Senior Rajasthan counsel V. Prakash and state additional advocate-general S.S. Shamshery also said that such relief was to be granted only in “very exceptional” cases, and that the ground cited by Salman didn’t qualify as one.

The high court had in November last year suspended Salman’s 2006 conviction, paving the way for him to apply for a British visa.

Under UK immigration rules, a person sentenced to more than four years is not eligible for a visa, and Salman was initially denied one.

Salman had sought the suspension saying it was affecting his foreign trips related to shoots, professional commitments and other matters. The high court had given him the relief till his appeal against the lower court order was disposed of.

In the apex court today, the state government said the high court had “lightly exercised the power under Section 389 (1) of CrPC (power to review an order passed by subordinate court) and wrongly suspended the conviction”.

“It is submitted that the reason for such suspension of conviction is only for the purpose that respondent/accused may travel abroad. Such (a) ground is legally unsustainable and may set a bad precedent,” the state said in its appeal.

According to advocate-general Shamsherry and another state lawyer, Varun Puniya, it is settled law that the power to suspend conviction should be exercised by appellate courts only in “very exceptional cases” after considering all aspects, including the ramifications of such a suspension.

Salman was convicted under the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, by a magistrate in Jodhpur for hunting the protected blackbucks on September 29, 1998, while he was in the Rajasthan town shooting for Hum Saath Saath Hain.

A sessions judge upheld the magistrate’s order, after which Salman appealed in the high court.