'Final punishment may take a year to decide'

Legal experts give opinion on Dec 16 gang rape case

The exultation over speedy justice after a trial court here sentenced the four convicts in the December 16, 2012 gang rape and murder may turn out to be short-lived as the journey of the case through the higher judiciary may, even if speeded up, take at least a year, jurists and legal experts say.

Even if the Delhi High Court, taking into account the public interest this case has generated, decides to expedite it when the death reference comes before it for reconfirmation, it will take about three to four months before it decides either way.

The HC, says the former Patna High Court Chief Justice Nagendra Rai, has to examine the entire case de novo, go through every material on record and independently apply its mind before coming to a conclusion whether it was a fit case for confirming the death reference.

“The consideration of death reference will get primacy over all other cases and it is a duty cast upon the HC to visit the case in its entirety,” he said, adding that the court had to take into account the seriousness of the crime.

“Not many death references are pending before the High Court, and as and when death reference come before the court, it is decided as quickly and urgently as possible. All judges are aware of it and there are no unnecessary delays,” said Rupinder Singh Sodhi, a senior Supreme Court counsel who is a former judge of the Delhi High Court, said.

Sodhi, who had awarded death sentence to Santosh Kumar Singh convicted for rape and murder of his Delhi Law Faculty junior Priyadarshini Matoo, said that in case the Delhi High Court confirms the death reference, the four convicts will have 90 days to appeal to the apex court.

The trial court had sentenced Santosh Kumar Singh to life imprisonment, while Sodhi had enhanced this to death and the Supreme Court had commuted this to life.

The apex court, in turn, may take two to three months to decide on the appeal, Sodhi said, adding that it be would nearly a year before the case completes its scrutiny by the higher judiciary and attains finality.

While hearing the matter, he said, “Nobody wants to be unfair to them and rush through the proceedings without giving them ample opportunity to present their point of view.”

‘Respect the law’

The mandate of law has to be respected, he added.

Jaspal Singh, another senior apex court counsel and former Delhi High Court judge, said, “My reading is that the HC will take it out of turn. So will the Supreme Court, keeping in view the public opinion, otherwise it takes years.”

Notwithstanding public opinion, Jaspal Singh, outlining the procedure, agreed with Rai and Sodhi, saying it will take around a year till the case is decided one way or the other by the two courts of appeal.

If that happens, it will be a case of the justice delivery system moving at an exceptional pace as in the Naina Sahni murder case, which came to be known as tandoor case. In this, the apex court had on August 13 reserved its order on the plea of Sushil Sharma, who had challenged the Delhi High Court upholding his death sentence.

Sahni was killed on November 2, 1995 by her husband Sushil Sharma, then a Youth Congress leader. He was convicted and sentenced to death by a trial court on November 7, 2003, which the Delhi High Court upheld on February 19, 2007.
In the December 16, 2012 case, a 23-year-old woman was brutally gang raped in a moving bus by six persons, including a juvenile. She died of grave intestinal injuries on December 29 at Singapore’s Mount Elizabeth Hospital, where she was airlifted for specialised treatment.

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