Three accused in Indian rape case finally get legal help

By Sanjeev Miglani

NEW DELHI, Jan 8 (Reuters) - Three of the men accused of
raping and murdering an Indian student have asked lawyers to
defend them and the lawyers have agreed to do so, even though
most of the judiciary has refused to represent the suspects
because of outrage over the attack.

The 23-year-old physiotherapy student died two weeks after
being beaten and gang-raped on a moving bus in New Delhi, then
thrown bleeding onto the street. Protests followed, along with a
fierce public debate over police failure to stem rampant
violence against women.

Five men and a teenager have been accused of the Dec. 16
attack but with public anger simmering, most lawyers in the
district where the trial will be held have ruled out
representing them.

But two lawyers, V. K. Anand and Manohar Lal Sharma, offered
to defend the five men when they appeared in a New Delhi court
for the first time on Monday, despite the condemnation of their
legal colleagues.

The lawyers said on Tuesday three of the five had asked to
be represented by them.

"I understand the sentiments of the people. But you cannot
go by sentiments," Anand told Reuters. "The accused have a right
to justice just as the victim has."

Legal experts had said a lack of representation for the five
could give grounds for appeal if they were found guilty.
Convictions in similar cases have often been overturned years

The five accused men are facing various charges including
murder, rape and abduction and prosecutors have said they would
seek the death penalty.

Anand said he would represent Ram Singh, the driver of the
bus on which the rape took place, and had a preliminary meeting
with him on Tuesday to work on a defence plan.

"There are many aspects. He has conceded some things and
also talked about the role of others," Anand said. He declined
to go into details.

The other lawyer, Sharma, said he would also be representing
Singh as well as two other men.

The court must confirm the two lawyers as defenders when it
next convenes on Jan. 10.

The other two of the five accused men had yet to ask for
legal representation, the lawyers said. The sixth member of the
group, who is a teenager, will be tried separately in a juvenile


On Monday, Anand and Sharma were heckled when they offered
to defend the men during rowdy scenes in court before the
pre-trial hearing.

Sharma said denying the men a legal defence would only make
it easier for courts to throw out the case if not now, then
later, if it went to an appeal.

Since their arrest soon after the assault on the woman and a
male companion, the men have not had any lawyers. Police have
conducted extensive interrogations of the men and say they have
recorded confessions

"This is a critical, complicated case. All the more reason
it should be tried in a fair manner," said Sharma, who practises
at the Supreme Court.

The case has shone a light on a widespread problem of
violence against women but also the failure of the criminal
justice system to bring the guilty to justice in a country where
official statistics show a rape is reported every 20 minutes.

The case will be heard in a special fast-track process, set
up after the attack, but some legal experts have warned that
previous attempts to fast-track justice in India in some cases
led to imperfect convictions that were later challenged.

Anand said comments by the woman's male companion, who was
badly beaten, about how they were left unattended afterwards and
how the police wrangled over whose jurisdiction the crime had
been committed in had exposed lapses in the investigation.

"This is not an open and shut case," Anand said. He did not
go into specifics.

The woman's friend told Zee television that passers-by left
the pair lying unclothed and bleeding in the street while police
officers argued over where to take them after they arrived 45
minutes later.

Police said the first police van reached the scene four
minutes after it was called and took the man and the woman to
hospital within 24 minutes.

The woman lived for two weeks after the attack but died in a
Singapore hospital where she had been taken for treatment.

(Editing by Robert Birsel)