iconimg Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Sumit Saxena, Hindustan Times
New Delhi, January 08, 2013
Chaos broke out in the courtroom of the magistrate hearing the gangrape and murder case of the 23-year-old woman, as lawyers protested the offer by one of their colleagues to defend the accused.

Metropolitan magistrate Namrita Aggarwal took up the case at 12.30 pm in a crowded courtroom. Almost immediately, advocate ML Sharma announced his willingness to be the defence counsel.

Sharma said he had received calls from the relatives of some of the accused and they wanted him to be their defence counsel. Lawyers from the Saket bar association objected to Sharma's decision.

A group of woman lawyers present in one of the witness's box argued with Sharma and said it was unethical of him to be present in the court.

Despite objection by his fellow lawyers, Sharma told the court he was unable to take signatures of the accused on the 'vakalatnama' (a person’s authority letter to an advocate to represent him in court) as he could not go to the jail.

He requested the court's permission to defend the accused. The magistrate refused and directed him to go the jail and get his documents in place. Following Sharma, two more lawyers offered their services as amicus curiae (see fast facts box) to the court.

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This led to a heated argument among the lawyers in the courtroom, as the bar associations in the national Capital have refused to offer any legal representation to the five men, accused of the brutal gangrape on board a bus on December 16.

As commotion continued for 10 minutes, the magistrate expressed her reluctance to conduct proceedings with lawyers shouting down each other. She left the courtroom. Several constables rushed inside and cordoned the dais of the magistrate.

The police personnel appeared wary and formed a human chain to protect the accused from being attacked. The magistrate returned to the court at 2.30pm and dictated an order to conduct the preliminary hearing behind closed doors.

Lawyers from the Saket Bar Association protested against the order and asked the magistrate to withdraw the order.

But, she ignored their opposition and continued to dictate the order to her stenographer.