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The gang rape of the 23-year-old student in Delhi has resulted in nearly unprecedented public uproar. Due to the unrelenting media attention and public outcry, four people in particular have now been thrust into the limelight: the four lawyers who are defending the accused in the case. Bar & Bench spoke to these lawyers about their backgrounds, their individual reasons for taking up the case, and their thoughts on the trial and the surrounding media frenzy.
Bar & Bench spoke to V.K. Anand, Manohar Lal Sharma, A.P. Singh and Vivek Sharma about their backgrounds, their individual reasons for taking up the case, and their thoughts on the trial and the surrounding media frenzy.
Advocate V.K. Anand is defending the main accused in the case, Ram Singh. Anand, who practices at the Supreme Court has been in the profession for nearly three decades and also conducts classes for judicial exams and the Advocate on Record exam. Anand felt that, since nobody else was coming forward to defend the accused, it was only just that the accused were provided with legal assistance.
He added, “Fair trial is a right of every accused under our legal system. Further a crime is an act against the society at large. Society also has the right to get an opportunity to have a thorough analysis of the case. Hence, I am also moving an application in the Delhi High Court under Article 226 for an open trial of Ram Singh. I appreciate the sentiments of the members of the Saket Bar and the public. However, let both the parties be heard and the evidence examined. If proved guilty beyond reasonable doubt, the accused must be punished. But this must not happen without giving the accused an opportunity to present his case.”
Anand said that his defence will be based on the cause of the death of the victim which, according to him, is still unclear. He also claims that Ram Singh’s right hand is 94% disabled and says that the doctors involved in the treatment of the victim need to be cross examined to ascertain the real cause of the death.
When asked about the opposition he had to face from the Bar, he had this to say: “[The] opposition was only from the Saket Bar Association and not from the Supreme Court Bar Association which is a very mature Bar [association]. Also there are advocates in the Saket Bar who actually want to defend the accused but are not doing so because of the appeal by the Saket Bar Association. In fact, few lawyers from the Saket Bar are assisting me in this case in many ways.” He also said that the way this case would be conducted by him would be used by him as an academic tool to provide his students an insight into criminal law procedure and practice.
Manohar Lal Sharma
Advocate Manohar Lal Sharma, the most outspoken and one of the more controversial lawyer amongst all the defence lawyers, is representing Mukesh, the brother of the main accused Ram Singh. Sharma belongs to Mathura and has been practicing law since 1979. He is a graduate of Dr. Ambedkar College of Law in Mumbai and initially worked in Mumbai, providing legal advice to corporate clients. He shifted base to Delhi in 1990 where he practices in both civil and criminal matters. Sharma is known for filing public interest litigation cases and was one of the first lawyers to come forward to defend the accused in this case. .
On being asked why he took up this case, Sharma gave several reasons. He said, “The accused is very young and poor. He needs to be represented. Another reason I took up this case was that I wanted to pass on the message to our society that our culture has been spoilt due to western influence, which is responsible for these kinds of heinous crimes. There is too much exposure and nudity through Internet, television and movies, which affects the young minds. When these young kids watch porn stuff, which is freely available, it tempts them to do such acts. Today, most of the criminals are young people within the age group of 20-25. So who is responsible for making all these people into criminals? Our society, politicians and business houses. If you put food in front of the dog, the dog will not say no to it. There is no respect left in our society for women or relationships. Unless all these sexual advertisements are stopped on the movies, television, Internet etc., you cannot stop rape. Today people are not shouting for the deceased but they are shouting for the revenge. If you want to cure the disease, you have to cure the root of the disease”.
“Another reason is that if I wouldn’t have taken up this case, you wouldn’t have been here to take my interview. Nobody can dare to speak what I can”, said Sharma.
Sharma said he also took up this case because he has been subjected to “judicial cruelty”, referring to a case relating to the former CJI, S.H. Kapadia. Sharma had filed a petition with reference to a tax matter involving Vodafone which had been decided by CJI Kapadia. In his petition, Sharma had stated that the CJI did not disclose the fact that his son worked for Ernst and Young, a consulting firm that had advised Vodafone. Sharma said, “The moment I made a reference, the presiding judge declined to hear my argument and dismissed my petition with costs. It was a judicial cruelty.” And I thought same judicial cruelty might happen in this case because since December 17, the whole of Delhi has joined the agitation against the rapists. I agree, the rapists must be hanged and must be punished. But my question is whether these arrested people are really the rapists and what is the gravity of the crime of each and every accused and who is the real person responsible for the murder?”
Sharma said, “The police had rushed through the investigation and just arrested these accused because there was too much pressure. It’s all on the basis of hearsay and presumption that everyone has believed that these are the real criminals”.
“Finally, I got a call from the family members to take up this case. They told me that before arresting the accused, the police had taken the entire family into custody and had threatened them not to open their mouth; otherwise they will be charged under various offences. They were all under threat and till today they have not visited…….” told Sharma.
“So, once I got a call, I started thinking whether I should I take up the case. It was a challenging decision. Police was already saying that they have solid evidence and the people have already believed that these accused are the criminals based on this hearsay evidence. Unless it is proved, you can’t say they are the accused. So, I decided I will appear even though there was a serious threat to my life. Only I dared to appear. I had to bear great nuisance. Everybody abused me but I stand for justice. I do not want any innocent person to be punished”.
Talking about his future course of action, Sharma said, “My client is innocent and we have pleaded not guilty. First, I was concerned about the safety of my client because my client told me that he was being tortured in the jail. So I brought that issue before the Court and now my client is safe. My client informed me today that he is not being sexually abused and tortured in the jail and there is strict control. Secondly, I didn’t want my client to be a victim of police encounter. The police usually have a prima facie stand that the accused was trying to flee, so they shot them. In this case if this happens, no one will argue because the entire world believes that these are the real accused. I argued before the court that my client should be handcuffed from Tihar jail to court and on the way back as well though other lawyers didn’t want their clients to be handcuffed. So, tomorrow police cannot say that my client was trying to flee. Police have already decided to encounter them, it is just a question of time. So I want my client to be handcuffed”.
“Thirdly, I have also filed a Transfer Petition in the Supreme Court. I want the case to be transferred out of Delhi because there is deep sentiment amongst the people here in Delhi and I want the hearing to be fair. I also want that the judge who is going to hear this trial to have a balanced mind and not have sympathy for either party. This is a matter, which is being watched by the entire world.”
Advocate A.P. Singh is the defence counsel for Vinay Sharma and Akshay Thakur. Singh is a Supreme Court lawyer. He did his LLB from Lucknow University and began his practice in 1998. He is also the All India General Secretary of the Bharatiya Sampoorna Krantikari Party. He says that he was initially unwilling to take up the case, but Singh was persuaded to accept the brief on his mother’s direction.
According to Singh, “Vinay Sharma was not on the bus. He was only a friend of Ram Singh being a neighbour. Akshay Thakur was on the bus but only took part in the quarrel between the complainant and the accused. I am moving an application against handcuffing the accused as both are innocent and have been falsely implicated. They are neither habitual offenders nor have they been involved in any criminal activities in the past. I will oppose handcuffing of the accused. The other prisoners in the jail are torturing the accused.”
Singh also said that he had received a few threatening calls and his own sister was unhappy that he he took up the case.
Advocate Vivek Sharma is representing Pawan Gupta, a fruit seller. Sharma did his LLB from Agra University and started his practice in the year 2000.
According to Sharma, “I took up the case because one of the family members of the accused approached me”. He told that he had not received any threatening calls or opposition from anybody for taking up the case. He, however, refused to comment on the defence he would employ in the case while stating that his client was innocent.
The case has now been assigned to the fast track court helmed by Judge Yogesh Khanna. The proceedings shall start from today.