The political controversy notwithstanding, the hanging of Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru has triggered a massive legal debate over whether Guru was properly represented in the court or not.
Supreme Court lawyer Kamini Jaiswal — who was closely associated with the case — said Guru was not properly represented in the trial court, leading to him being awarded the death sentence.
This contention, however, has been countered by senior advocate and former Solicitor General Gopal Subramanium, who was a special public prosecutor in the case from trial court till the Supreme Court.
"The fact remains that Afzal Guru did not get a proper defence counsel in the trial court and once the case is damaged beyond repair at that stage, there is no way it can be rescued in higher courts," said Jaiswal, who appeared for the accused.
Subramanium said the issue was examined in great detail by the Supreme Court.
"Afzal Guru was provided a lawyer at every stage and when he was unhappy in the trial court with the individual representing him, the court even allowed him to directly cross-examine some witnesses," he said.
Jaiswal said it was a denial of genuine rights of the accused, but Subramanium pointed out that Guru was represented by some of the country's best known lawyers in the Delhi high court and the Supreme Court and the case was decided quickly by all courts.
"Police completed its investigation in 21 days. The trial was concluded within nine months and the high court confirmed the death penalty in less than a year. The final judgment from the Supreme Court was delivered within four years of the attack on Parliament," Subramanium said.
Jaiswal said Afzal’s case cannot be compared with that of Mumbai attacker Ajmal Amir Kasab, who was hanged on November 21 last year.
"There was strong and irrefutable evidence of Kasab's direct involvement in the killing of innocent people in Mumbai. At no stage, it was even alleged by the prosecution that Afzal Guru was directly involved in the Parliament attack. His conviction was based on circumstantial evidence," she said.
In Subramanium's view all the courts found that Guru was an important link in the entire case. "It was clearly established that he was an essential conspirator, without whose covert act, the offence could not have been committed,”
Jaiswal slammed the government for keeping the mercy petition pending for almost seven years and hanging Guru without informing his family.
"The hurry in which Afzal Guru was hanged shows that human rights have been suspended in the country," she said.
Subramanium agreed that some guidelines were required for deciding mercy petitions within a definite time frame.