The Nirbhaya Saga Continues: Convicts drag out delays in court
Convicts in the Nirbhaya case are clearly using delaying tactics to put off their executions. Here's the latest.
A Delhi court on Wednesday offered Pawan Gupta, one of the four death row convicts in the Nirbhaya gang rape and murder case, legal aid after he said that he does not have a lawyer.
Additional Session Judge Dharmender Rana expressed displeasure over delay from Pawan's side who said he has removed his earlier lawyer and will need time to engage a new one.
The move has not been well received.
Nirbhaya's parents and the Delhi government had moved the court on Tuesday seeking fresh death warrants for the convicts after the Supreme Court granted liberty to the authorities to approach the trial court for issuance of fresh date for the execution of these convicts.
The warrants, issued by the trial court on January 7, were later postponed "sine die" by it on January 31, giving the condemned prisoners a reprieve for the second time in two weeks.
The date of execution, first fixed for January 22 in Tihar jail, was later postponed for 6 am on February 1 by a January 17 court order. The trial court had on January 31 stayed "till further orders" execution of the four convicts in the case, who are lodged in Tihar Jail.
"It is criminally sinful to execute the convicts when law permits them to live. The High Court on February 5 has permitted the convicts, in the interest of justice, to exercise their legal remedies within one week from same order," the court had said.
"I concur with counsel for convicts that death warrants cannot be executed merely on basis of surmises and conjectures. The application is bereft of merit. Same is dismissed. State is at liberty to move appropriate application as and when required," the judge had said.
In its order, the high court was critical of the delay caused by the authorities in seeking issuance of death warrants for the convicts as also of the "delay tactics" adopted by the convicts.
"All the authorities concerned were sleeping" and waited till December 2019 "for reasons best known to them" to seek issuance of death warrants, the high court said.
The Tihar jail authorities had filed a status report on Tuesday before the trial court stating that no legal option was preferred by any convicts -- Mukesh Kumar Singh (32), Pawan Gupta (25), Vinay Kumar Sharma (26) and Akshay Kumar (31) -- in last seven-day period, granted by the Delhi High Court.
While examining the need for a fresh death warrant for the convicts, the court found out that one of the convicts no longer has legal representation. Pawan Gupta had reportedly terminated the services of his lawyer, making it difficult to serve him legal notices.
This came to the notice of the Court during the trial today, when Public Prosecutor Irfan Ahmad informed the court that notices were served to the convicts, however, Pawan's lawyer, AP Singh, refused to accept notice for Pawan by saying that he's not representing Pawan anymore. Ahmad also told the court that Pawan is not willing to engage a legal aid lawyer.
In response, the judge assured Pawan's father that the court would provide him with a legal aid counsel. Then, Judge asked Vrinda Grover to take up this role. She, however, denied the offer, saying it was too strenous a matter to take up.
Upon hearing this, Pawan's father once again reiterated that they would prefer not to hire a legal aid lawyer. The judge is then reported to have said, "You should've got a private lawyer then. It's an urgent matter, why is such delay being caused? I'll record in the order that you were offered legal aid but you denied it".
As Vrinda Grover pointed out today in court, there are now two options before the bench - Either, it can choose to appoint a legal aid lawyer from empanelled lawyers for Pawan, despite his objections. Alternatively, an Amicus can be appointed, who's not an empanelled legal aid lawyer. An Amicus, meaning a friend of the court, is a lawyer who will act as an impartial adviser to a court of law in a particular case.
The judge pointed out that even if convicts are engaging in delay tactics, the court can only deal with it in accordance with law, and convicts are entitled for legal aid until the very end. There was an absolute necessity to provide Pawan with a lawyer. As such, the court has adjourned the matter until 3 PM tomorrow.
The Court is reported to have said "Any condemned convict is entitled for legal aid till his last breath".
District Legal Services Authority (DLSA) provided Pawan's father with a list of its empanelled advocates to chose from.
The 23-year-old physiotherapy intern, who came to be known as 'Nirbhaya' (fearless), was gang-raped and savagely assaulted on the night of December 16, 2012, in a moving bus in South Delhi. She died of her injuries a fortnight later in a Singapore hospital.
The trial of the five adult men began in a special fast-track court in March 2013. Ram Singh, the prime accused, allegedly committed suicide by hanging himself in Tihar jail days after the trial began. The juvenile, who was said to be the most brutal of the attackers, was put in a correctional home for three years.
The juvenile was released in 2015 and sent to an undisclosed location amid concerns over a threat to his life. He, when released, was 20 years old. Mukesh, Vinay, Akshay and Pawan were sentenced to death in September 2013 by the trial court.