India rape case may lose fast track
The Indian bus rape and murder case could be held up by legal delays after a claim that one of the five men charged is actually a juvenile.
Defence lawyer Manohar Lal Sharma lodged an appeal in the Delhi court claiming his client, supposedly 26, was under 18. The move could take the case off India's "fast track" justice system and plunge it into the normal legal morass in which trials can sometimes take years.
The five men charged over last month's attack of the 23-year-old student on a bus in New Delhi would face a possible death penalty if convicted. The rape of the woman, and the brutal beating that led to her death set off an impassioned debate about what India needs to do to prevent such tragedies. Protesters and politicians have called for tougher rape laws, police reforms and a transformation in the way the country treats women.
Mr Sharma told the hearing his client Mukesh Singh was under the adult criminal age of 18, and that police documents indicating he was 26 had been "manipulated". "If you could just see his face, he is only a child," he said after the case.
Mr Sharma said Singh had added several years to his age to get a driver's licence. He said he asked the court to order a medical test to determine Singh's age, but that the court did not indicate whether it would meet his request.
A sixth suspect has already claimed he is 17 years old, and if he is tried in a juvenile court he would face a maximum sentence of three years in a reform facility.
The case was expected to be shifted to the fast-track court on Monday, but instead it dealt only with procedural matters.
The next hearing is scheduled for Thursday, but it was not clear whether the case would be handed over then to the fast-track court, which was created this month to deal with crimes against women. Monday's hearing had been set for last week but was rescheduled when it turned out that the official list of charges was not completely legible.
Last week Mr Sharma made a series of inflammatory and often-contradictory statements, saying that police had beaten the five charged suspects and placed other prisoners into their cells to threaten them with knives.
Meanwhile police have arrested six suspects in another gang rape of a bus passenger. The 29-year-old victim was the only passenger on a bus as she was travelling to her village in northern Punjab state on Friday night. The driver, conductor and five others and took turns raping her.