Legal aid can’t be illusionary: Judge defers death warrant hearing for Dec 2012 rape convictsUpdated: Feb 13, 2020 22:47 IST
A condemned convict has the right of legal aid under the Indian Constitution and his fundamental rights cannot be ignored, a Delhi court said while adjourning the matter to issue a fresh date for the execution of the four convicts in the December 16 gang rape case. Minutes after the court deferred the hearing to February 17, protests broke outside the Patiala House court complex by two groups—one seeking issuance of death warrant and the second by the parents of the convicts who wanted to stop the hanging.
Additional Sessions Judge Dharmendra Rana said the Constitution protects the life and liberty of a condemned prisoner till his last breath. “…It is a matter of right to exhaust his legal remedies and the court cannot afford to ignore the fundamental rights of the convict,” he said.
The oral order was given while hearing pleas by victim’s mother Asha Devi and the state seeking issuance of fresh death warrants to execute Vinay Sharma, Pawan Gupta, Akshay Thakur and Mukesh Singh, who were sentenced to death in 2013 for the rape and murder of a 23-year-old paramedical student on a moving bus on December 16, 2012.
On Thursday, the jail authorities informed the court that Pawan refused to pick a lawyer from the list provided to him on Wednesday after his father Hira Lal Gupta, told the judge that his former counsel AP Singh would no longer represent him.
The court was informed that advocate Ravi Qazi has been appointed by the Secretary Delhi State Legal Services Authority (DSLA) to represent Pawan, following which the court directed that he be given all the documents pertaining to the case.
“I deem it appropriate that even the legal aid counsel for Pawan is entitled for some time of effective representation. So that the legal aid providers to the convict is not illusionary or superficiary exercise,” said the judge. He also said that deciding this application would lead to further legal complications.
Appearing for the state, Additional Public Prosecutor Irfan Ahmed told the court that the death warrant can be issued since no petition or application is pending before any court. Amicus Curiae advocate Vrinda Grover told the court that the apex court has issued notice on a plea by the Centre seeking individual hanging of the convicts.
Advocate Jitendra Kumar Jha and Seema Kushwaha, for the victim’s parents’ said that the patience of the society is being tested by this case. Jha said that the judiciary is being taken for granted as the death warrant has been postponed thrice in the case.
“It was a heinous crime which shook the conscience of the society. But now, it is the people’s will which is being bulldozed,” said the lawyer.
However, the court said, “I deem it appropriate that even the legal aid counsel for Pawan is entitled for some time of effective representation. So that the legal aid provided to the convict is not illusionary or superficiary exercise,” said the judge.
A dejected mother of the gangrape victim, Asha Devi, pleaded to the court and said, “How long should I remain patient? Every day, I come to the court with new hope, only to go back disappointed,” Devi said seeking issuance of death warrant.
Soon after the court passed the order, protests and sloganeering started outside the court premises.
While one group of protesters raised slogans seeking issuance of fresh death warrants, another group, led by convicts’ families contended that “five should not be hung for one death”.
A 23-year-old physiotherapy intern 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. Six people - the four convicts, Ram Singh and a juvenile - were named as accused. The trial of the five adult men began in a special fast-track court in March 2013.
Ram Singh, the prime accused, 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. He 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. The date of execution for the four convicts—Mukesh Kumar Singh (32), Pawan Gupta (25), Vinay Kumar Sharma (26) and Akshay Kumar (31)—was first fixed for January 22 in Tihar jail, was later postponed for 6am on February 1 by a January 17 court order.