New Delhi, Jan. 21: The December 16 gang rape and murder trial got under way at a fast-track court here today but the Supreme Court will tomorrow hear a petition seeking transfer of the case outside Delhi.
Fast-track judge Yogesh Khanna announced he would hear the arguments on the framing of the charges against the five accused from January 24. The framing of charges marks the start of the trial process.
Khanna upheld the order passed by a metropolitan magistrate, before whom the chargesheet had been filed, and ruled the trial would be held behind closed doors and the media cannot publish anything on the proceedings without court permission.
Last week, the metropolitan magistrate had committed the case to the fast-track court, inaugurated by Chief Justice of India Altamas Kabir early this month.
The case of the sixth accused, who claims to be a minor, is before the Juvenile Justice Board, which has to decide whether to order an ossification test to ascertain his age.
Police counsel Rajiv Mohan said he had an airtight case against the other five, who have been charged with gang rape, murder, robbery, destruction of evidence, abduction and criminal conspiracy. “We will seek the death penalty,” Mohan said.
One of the five accused, Mukesh Lal, has sought the transfer of the trial to a court in Mathura in Uttar Pradesh or Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu, arguing no fair trial is possible in Delhi.
He has cited the public protests in Delhi, the media coverage and comments by senior ministers and politicians to claim the atmosphere has been vitiated against the accused in the capital.
His lawyer Manohar Lal Sharma also alleged that the police were planning to bump the accused off in fake encounters.
A three-judge bench made up by Chief Justice Altamas Kabir and Justices J. Chelameshar and Vikramjit Sen asked the court registry to put the matter up for Tuesday after Sharma cited the fast-track court proceedings and sought an early hearing.
At the fast-track court, crowded with police, lawyers and journalists, proceedings began at 2.30pm.
Special public prosecutor Dayan Krishnan sought an in-camera trial and a ban on the media from publishing detailed reports on the proceedings, and asked the court to decide if the media could publish a synopsis.
The judge said: “The trial, henceforth, will be held by me in camera. All persons unconnected with the case are directed to clear the courtroom and to ensure safe passage for the accused. It shall not be lawful for any person to publish or print any matter relating to the proceedings of this case except with prior permission of the court.”
Except the prosecution and defence lawyers, everybody left the courtroom and the five accused were brought in with their faces covered.
In the Supreme Court, Mukesh’s lawyer claimed that statements by powerful people, from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to Sonia Gandhi, as well as the sentiments expressed by ordinary citizens had prejudiced the atmosphere against the accused.
Sharma said that on January 17, he had told the metropolitan magistrate he feared the police might kill the accused claiming they had tried to flee from custody. He had sought rejection of the police’s application to keep them handcuffed, but his plea was turned down.
“There are regular public agitations in Delhi. Political pressure is mounting on the police to hang the arrested persons,” the petition said.