Lawyers of Delhi gang rape accused face heat
In a grubby room, one wall lined with legal tomes, a father and his son leaf through thick case files in preparation for the trial of their lives — defending the main accused in a gang rape that outraged India and caused shock waves around the world.
The small New Delhi legal firm, with its headquarters in a cramped office above a local bank, has been thrust into the international spotlight after being appointed to represent bus driver Ram Singh. Singh is accused of leading a gang that raped and severely injured a 23-year-old student in a moving Delhi bus, leading eventually to her death.
A local lawyers association said its members had agreed not to take up the case for the accused in view of the nature of the crime and the public outrage it has caused.
Vibhor Anand, a 24-year-old law student, saw things differently and convinced his father to seize the opportunity.
“It was my idea to go for the case,” Anand said, leaning forward in his chair. It was important the defendants were represented, however terrible the crime, he said.
So V.K. Anand, 57, headed down to the pre-trial court in another part of town to offer his services. He was shouted down when he stood up in the tightly packed courtroom and announced his desire to defend the main accused. One woman lawyer prodded him hard in anger.
“They did not allow me to make an appearance in the court itself, they created such a problem for me, but ultimately I said it is the right of the accused person,” he said.
Despite the public hostility to anyone defending the accused, in the end the Anands had competition for Singh’s case, with an outspoken Supreme Court lawyer, M.L. Sharma also coming forward and seeking to represent him. Eventually, Sharma was hired by Singh’s brother Mukesh, another of the accused.
Another lawyer is representing two other accused while it is not yet clear who exactly is representing the fifth man.
All of the accused are friends who, according to the police charge sheet against them, went out on a joy ride on Dec. 16, looking for women. The five have been charged with multiple offences including murder, attempt to murder, gang rape, kidnapping, criminal conspiracy, burglary and unnatural sexual offences. They face the death penalty, if convicted.
The five accused were back in court yesterday where police sought to extend their remand in custody. The court which is listening to pre-trial hearings is also expected to commit the case to a fast track which will then begin the trial. The fast track court is expected to reach a verdict within three months.
Charges against a sixth member of the group have not been brought while police complete an inquiry to confirm his age. He has said he is 17, and under Indian law, a juvenile court has to try anyone below 18.
According to the police chargesheet seen by Reuters the men lured the young woman and a male friend into the bus, offering a ride home, and then attacked the man first, before taking the woman to the rear of the bus and raping her by turns.
The men also assaulted the woman with iron rods and the pair were thrown off the bus, left on a highway, police said. Ram Singh, the driver of the bus led the assault on the woman, according to the police chargesheet.
Anand senior said while the crime was heinous, the defendants were entitled to a fair trial.
“Just as the victim must get justice, the accused should also get justice. You cannot hang a person just because the public wants them hanged,” said the mustached and balding Anand as his son fielded calls from the world media. “From the investigation stage, the accused are entitled to legal aid,” Anand senior said. “The court is under obligation to provide legal aid counsel in case they have not engaged any lawyer.
“This is where they went wrong, no legal aid was assigned to those people themselves,” he said. Sharma, the wiry lawyer for Mukesh Singh, the main accused’s brother, said he had to virtually plead with the pre-trial court to allow him to speak to his client when he was brought before the court.
He was jostled, somebody shouted out he was a lawyer desperately seeking attention and that he should be thrown out of the room. But he said he was not going to give up, because his fight was not just about defending the accused, but also to expose the police and the criminal justice system.