The High Court in England on Tuesday heard the Indian government’s appeal for the extradition of a UK-based couple to face charges of murder of their adopted son in India to claim his life insurance payout.
Arti Dhir and her husband Kaval Raijada are wanted in India for the murder of 11-year-old Gopal and his brother-in-law in Gujarat three years ago. Their extradition request had been turned down by Westminster Magistrates’ Court in London in July last year, with the Indian government later granted permission to appeal in the High Court.
Justices James Dingemans and Robin Spencer reserved their judgment, to be handed down in the coming weeks, after hearing arguments from the UK’s Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), which represents the Indian authorities in court extradition proceedings.
They were critical of the delays by the Indian government on meeting court timelines to submit the required assurances sought by the magistrates’ court.
Chief magistrate Emma Arbuthnot had ruled against extradition on the grounds that the couple would be subjected to a double life term without parole if convicted in India, which would be in breach of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).
“There were challenges faced due to complex matters involved,” said CPS barrister Toby Cadman.
He argued in favour of extradition on the grounds that the Indian government has provided assurances that the state policy in Gujarat, where the couple would be tried, would be over-ridden by the central government to overcome the “irreducible life sentences” hurdle.
However, Dhir and Raijada’s barrister, Edward Fitzgerald, contested the appeal on the grounds of such an exemption being applicable and also for the “repeated delays” on the part of the Indian government in submitting documents in a time-bound manner.
The case dates back to June 2017, when Dhir and Raijada were arrested on a provisional warrant in the UK and released on conditional bail following “substantial securities”.
According to details that emerged in court, the murder allegations against the duo relate to their adopted son Gopal Sejani and his brother-in-law Harsukhbhai Kardani in February 2017 in India.
An investigation by Gujarat police has claimed that the accused had hatched a plot to adopt Gopal and then insure him for around Rs 1.3 crores (£150,000) before staging his kidnapping and murder in India to split the life insurance payout.
Gopal was abducted by two men on motorbikes, stabbed and left by a road in Gujarat. Mr Kardani was attacked as he tried to defend the boy. Both died of their injuries.
If the High Court judges uphold India’s appeal, it will go back to Westminster Magistrates’ Court for the District Judge to order the couple’s extradition. However, if the decision goes the other way, the CPS said it would file an application to reissue the extradition proceedings.
Back in July 2019, Judge Emma Arbuthnot had accepted there was a “circumstantial prima facie case” against the couple but turned down the extradition request on human rights grounds.
She had warned the accused that they could be hauled before the UK courts again if the legal framework in the state of Gujarat, where the killing occurred, were to allow a process of parole in a life sentence for multiple murder in accordance with the ECHR. She had also pointed out “strong evidence” of money being sent from the London bank account linked with the accused to the man who organised the killing, which could mean the prospect of a prosecution being initiated in the UK.