Delhi gang-rape verdicts 'very soon', says lawyer

Verdicts for five men accused of the fatal gang-rape of a student on a New Delhi bus would be handed down "very soon," a defence lawyer said Tuesday, as an application to relocate the trial failed.

Lawyer V.K. Anand said proceedings in the special "fast-track" sessions court which is hearing the case were advancing at pace as he took part in an online chat on the website of Indian news channel CNN-IBN.

"At this speed I expect a verdict very soon," wrote Anand, who represents two defendants. "(But) it would certainly take more than a month as scrutiny of evidence and witnesses would take time."

A petition to move the trial out of the capital, where there is a clamour for quick verdicts and the death penalty, was turned down by the Supreme Court Tuesday because it was lodged by a lawyer who is no longer working on the case.

Anand said he would not renew the application, made by his client Mukesh Singh's original lawyer, but that he would challenge a media gagging order imposed on court proceedings by the judge.

"I will be filing a petition for an open trial in the High Court this week," Anand, who is representing both Mukesh Singh and his brother Ram, told AFP by phone.

The petition to move the trial outside Delhi argued that the judge hearing the case of the men, accused of luring the woman onto the bus and raping her so violently that she died of her injuries, might be swayed by public anger in the city.

"We have a very impartial, fair and competent judge who is presiding over this case," wrote Anand, who added that his clients had a "fair chance" of being found not guilty.

India abolished jury trials in 1960 because they were seen as too susceptible to bias and news reports.

On Monday, a separate court ruled that a sixth suspect in the case should be tried as a juvenile after it accept his claim based on his school leaving certificate that he was aged 17.

The decision, which means he faces a maximum of three years if convicted instead of the death penalty, has appalled the victim's family who said they would call for an exception to be made in the case.

Indian media reports, citing unnamed police officials, say the 17-year-old was among the most brutal of the assailants, who are accused of violating the woman with an iron bar.

The NDTV news channel said the family of the victim intended to file an appeal.

"The punishment should not be less even if he is a juvenile... We will go to court and appeal. We will do whatever we have to," the victim's father, who works as a baggage handler at a Delhi airport, told the network.

There have been calls from politicians and in the media for the age limit for juveniles -- set at 18 -- to be lowered to enable the suspect to be tried in an adult court, but this was been rejected by the government.

A commission set up by the government to look into the legal response to crime against women also advised against lowering the age limit to 16 when it reported its findings last week.

The physiotherapy student died 13 days after the assault, which happened on a bus she had boarded with her boyfriend as they returned home from watching a film in an upmarket shopping mall.

Although 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 police and attitudes to women in Indian society.

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