One year since Nirbhaya case: Verdict on appeal likely in January

One year since Nirbhaya case: Verdict on appeal likely in January

Almost one year after the horrific gangrape of a young paramedic student who was not only raped but brutally assaulted by six men in a moving private bus which shook the country, the Delhi High Court which has been hearing appeals of the four accused and arguments on the death sentence on a daily basis in the sensational case, will pronounce its verdict, most likely in January.

According to M.L. Sharma, defense counsel of two of the accused Mukesh and Pawan Gupta, they have been arguing and expecting the verdict to be pronounced in the second week of January. The lawyer said he will try to complete his arguments next week following which the holidays for the court will begin, and then he will have to give fact findings, Supreme Court's judgments in related cases and conclude it. However, the Special Public Prosecutor Dayan Krishnan, referring to defense counsel’s alleged tactics said, “The high court decided to hear the case on a day to day basis. Prosecution has completed its arguments in the case, but considering the conduct of defense counsel, I am not sure about the time it will take for the judgment to be pronounced”.

On September 13, a Delhi court awarded death sentence to four of the rapists - Mukesh (26 years old), Akshay Thakur (28 years old), Pawan Gupta (19 years old) and Vinay Sharma (20 years old) for gangrape, murder, dacoity, unnatural offences and destruction of evidence. The minor was sent to a reform home for three years, and one main accused committed suicide in prison. The court has sent the case to the high court for confirmation of the death sentence. The case was then being heard from November 1 on a daily basis, by a Division Bench of Justice Reva Khetrapal and Justice Pratibha Rani. The Supreme Court, however, asked the high court to not hurriedly hear the case after the defense counsel moved the apex court seeking copies of judgment and other trial records in Hindi for the convicts, which was rejected by the high court, observing that the defense counsel of the two accused was misleading and hiding facts from the apex court.

On December 16, 2012, the 23 year old young paramedic student who boarded a private bus in Delhi along with her male friend, was raped and brutally assaulted by six men in the moving private bus. Widespread protests broke out in the national capital in the wake of the brutal gang rape. The first arrest in the case was made on December 18, 2012, of Ram Singh, the driver of the bus, while the girl still remained in a critical condition in the ICU.  On December 20, 2012, the victim’s friend testified. The other accused who was a minor, was arrested on December 21, 2012, and the very next day the sixth and the final accused, Akshay Thakur, was also arrested.

Protests turned violent and Section 144 was imposed across the New Delhi district. Promises were made by the government for strict action to be taken against the four accused and it also assured people that it would bring in better, stricter laws and regulations for the safety of the women. The Government of Delhi announced launch of women's helpline and promised home guards in late night buses. Amidst all the hue and cry for justice for the young girl, the victim's condition was declared critical and her statement was recorded. The extremely critical girl was then shifted to Mount Elizabeth Hospital in Singapore, where, on December 29, 2012, she lost her life after a 13-day fight.

Charge sheet against five accused were filed on January 3, 2013 by the Delhi Police which slapped the accused with murder, apart from rape, abduction; and the sixth accused was sent to Juvenile home. In-camera proceedings were ordered by the court on January 7, 2013 and proceedings against five adult accused then started in fast-track court from January 17, 2013. On January 28, 2013, the Juvenile justice Board, relying on his birth certificate and school documents, declared one of the accused as 17 years and six months old on the day of the crime, who was declared as the most brutal of the six accused by the Delhi Police in the 33-page charge sheet. n July 11, 2013, the Juvenile Justice Board held the minor guilty of illegally confining and robbing a carpenter on December 16 night before allegedly taking part in the gangrape and on August 31, 2013, the Juvenile Justice Board convicted the minor for gangrape and murder and awarded three years term at a probation home, inclusive of the eight months he spent in remand during the trial. On the other hand, another accused Ram Singh committed suicide in Tihar jail.

The Fast-track court began hearing final arguments in the trial against four adult accused from August 22, 2013. The prosecution presented evidence including witness statements, the victim's statement, fingerprints, DNA testing, and dental modelling. On September 10, 2013, the Delhi Court convicted Mukesh, Vinay, Akshay, Pawan of 13 offences including gangrape, unnatural offence and murder of the girl, and attempt to murder her male friend. The hearing of arguments on quantum of punishment to be awarded was concluded on September 11, 2013; and on September 13, 2013, the Delhi Court awarded death to all four convicts. The victim's father called for the defendants to be hanged and said complete justice would only be delivered the day the accused are hanged. However, lawyers for three of the four accused stated that their clients intended to appeal against the verdict. Pleas for a lesser sentence was also rejected by Judge Yogesh Khanna saying the case has "shocked the collective conscience of India", and that "courts cannot turn a blind eye to such crimes".

One of the most important steps taken by the government in the wake of the Delhi gang rape was the setting up of a judicial committee on 22 December 2012, headed by late J.S. Verma, a former Chief Justice of India. The JS Verma committee submitted a report suggesting amendments to criminal law in order to severely deal with sexual assault cases. The committee urged the public in general and particularly eminent jurists, legal professionals, NGOs, women's groups and civil society to share their views, knowledge and experience suggesting possible amendments in the criminal and other relevant laws to provide for quicker investigation, prosecution, and trial, and also enhanced punishment for criminals accused of committing sexual assault of an extreme nature against women.

The Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013 was passed by the Lok Sabha on 19 March 2013, and by the Rajya Sabha on 21 March 2013, amending the Indian Penal Code, Indian Evidence Act, and Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 on laws related to sexual offences. The Bill received Presidential assent on 2 April 2013 and came into force from 3 February 2013. It was originally an Ordinance promulgated by the President of India, Pranab Mukherjee, on 3 February 2013, in light of the wide spread protests in the Delhi gang rape case. According to Minister of Law and Justice Ashwani Kumar, 90 percent of the suggestions made by the JS Verma Committee Report were incorporated in the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, including death penalty for rape.