India’s Supreme Court rejected on Tuesday an application to move the trial of five men accused of the fatal gang-rape of a student on a bus in New Delhi.
A three-judge bench dismissed the petition, which argued that the men could not get a fair trial in the capital, because the lawyer who filed it had ceased to represent one of the defendants.
Legal experts have raised concerns over the public pressure on the judge in New Delhi hearing the case of the men accused of abducting the woman and repeatedly raping her on a moving bus on December 16.
The incident has sparked violent protests and a bout of soul-searching in India about the treatment of women. The victim’s family have led calls for prompt verdicts and the death penalty.
The case is being held in a new “fast-track” court set up after the gang-rape, which is designed to deliver justice more quickly than the rest of the system where cases often take years to come to trial.
The petition to move the trial out of New Delhi was filed by lawyer M.L. Sharma, who said he was acting on behalf of defendant Mukesh Singh.
The three-judge bench hearing the petition on Tuesday said Singh had since appointed V.K. Anand as his counsel, meaning the original petition was void.
The father of the victim has called for changes in the law to allow a teenage suspect to be tried as an adult, local media reported on Tuesday.
The father of the 23-year-old victim said he was shocked a court ruled the sixth suspect in the deadly gang-rape case would be tried as a juvenile, facing a maximum prison term of three years if convicted.
“I want to ask the lawmakers if an exception shouldn’t be made in this case,” the father, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was quoted as saying in the Hindu newspaper.
“We want to be reassured by the government that my rights to justice is protected. In this case the accused is hiding behind legal loopholes in the system,” he added.
The victim’s family has been among those calling for the juvenile to be tried alongside the five other accused, who face the possibility of being hanged if found guilty of rape and murder charges.
But the Delhi-based Juvenile Justice Board on Monday accepted the school records of the teenage suspect, which states that he was born on June 4, 1995, making him 17.
“The news came in as the family sat down to have its evening meal. Nobody has eaten since then,” the father said from the family’s modest one-room accommodation in east Delhi.
Though sexual harassment is commonplace in India and gang-rapes far from rare, the case has touched a nerve, leading to an outpouring of criticism of the treatment of women in Indian society.
A government panel set up to recommend changes to sexual crime laws last week rejected calls for the age at which people can be tried as adults to be lowered to 16 from 18.
[Image via Agence France-Presse]