New Delhi, Feb 17 (IANS) Trial of the five men charged with gang-raping a 23-year-old woman in a moving bus here Dec 16 will take another three months to conclude, say advocates.
Dayan Krishnan, the special public prosecutor in the case, told IANS that "in another three months, the trial will be complete".
The court was to hear the case daily, but after the judge's father died, the trial has been in hold since Feb 13. It will resume Feb 18 (Monday), Krishnan said. The trial, continuing since Feb 5 in a fast track court in Saket in south Delhi, is not being reported as Additional Sessions Judge Yogesh Khanna has restrained the media from reporting the daily hearings.
V.K. Anand, the lawyer who represents main accused Ram Singh and his brother Mukesh in the court, also said the trial would continue for another three to four months.
"There are so many witnesses that it will certainly take another three to four months to complete the proceedings. Now the court is recording the statements of witnesses, then cross-examinations will begin, followed by final arguments. The procedure probably will be complete in May-end," Anand told IANS.
A.P. Singh, who represents three other accused, Pawan Gupta, Vinay Sharma and Akshay Thakur, also said the judgment would come in two-three months' time.
"There are 80 witnesses in the case. The trial will take another two to three months," Singh told IANS.
The young woman, a physiotherapist trainee, was tortured and gang-raped by five men and a juvenile in a moving bus Dec 16. She and her male friend were then thrown off on the road -- bloodied and without clothes.
The woman died in a Singapore hospital 13 days later. Her brutal attack sparked spontaneous protests in the country, forcing the government to take several steps, including setting up the fast track court Dec 19 to try the five accused. The sixth, a minor, will be tried by the Juvenile Justice Board.
The police framed charges against the five Feb 2.
Delhi Police have made 80 witnesses in the case including the woman's friend, doctors of Safdarjang Hospital here and Mount Elizabeth Hospital in Singapore and the magistrate who recorded the victim's statement.
The deposition of 80 witnesses was a time-consuming process, A.P. Singh said.
"Till now, 10 witnesses have recorded their statements before the court. Seventy more witnessses have to depose and it will take time. Out of the 10 witnesses (who have recorded their statements), eight have been cross-examined and two are still left," counsel told IANS.
He said police have also booked the five accused under 13 counts under the Indian Penal Code, including murder, rape, attempt to murder and criminal conspiracy. The accused have pleaded not guilty and sought trial.
"All the five are not guilty of rape, murder and other offences, but police have painted all with the same brush," counsel said.
He also said he was "doubtful of a fair trial".
"We want an impartial trial. But there is political and public pressure on the court. In such a scenario, how can we expect a fair trial?" he told IANS.
Like A.P. Singh, Anand too said the case against his client was "very weak" and "if given fair trial, all the accused will be acquitted".
Attorneys refused to give more details about the case since the judge had on Jan 7 ordered in-camera trial and restrained the media from reporting any news related to it without its permission.
Journalists are also not allowed to attend the daily proceedings of the case and even defence counsel have been told not to brief or discuss the case with reporters. They have been warned that contempt of court proceedings will be initiated against them if they do so.
While the trial in this gang-rape case may take time, a trial court in Punjab in January, hearing a rape case, gave a quick ruling. It convicted and sentenced a rapist to 10 years in jail in just nine days after the charge-sheet was filed.
Also, in Bihar's Rohtas district, a sessions court in 2006 pronounced its judgment in a rape case in two days, setting the record for the fastest judicial proceeding ever conducted in India.
But both the defence lawyers in the Delhi gang-rape case, however, said in the previous two cases, the accused had pleaded guilty.
In such a situation, the court does not require witnesses.
"Whereas in our case, all the accused have pleaded not guilty. So the trial will take its time," A.P. Singh said.
(Garima Tyagi can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)