Delhi gang rape case moved to fast-track court

Demonstrators shout slogans and raise their hands during a candlelight march for a gang rape victim, who was assaulted in New Delhi January 16, 2013 In the wake of the public outcry, the government promised a fast-track legal process for this and other crimes

The case of five men charged with the gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old woman in Delhi has been moved to a fast-track court for trial.

Lawyers for the defendants say that the case will get under way on Monday.

A sixth suspect, who is thought to be 17, will be tried separately in a youth court if it is confirmed he is a minor.

The case has shocked India and sparked a debate about the treatment of women. If convicted, the men could face the death penalty.

In the wake of the public outcry and nationwide protests, the government promised a fast-track legal process for this and other rape cases.

It announced it was setting up six fast-track courts in Delhi to allow crimes against women to be dealt with swiftly. Legal proceedings in India sometimes involve years of delays.

India's fast-track courts

  • Some 1,200 fast-track courts were operating in India as of March 2012
  • In Delhi, six fast-track courts were ordered for the trial of cases related to crimes against women, especially rape. Some other states such as Punjab and Maharashtra are also setting up fast-track courts for this purpose
  • In 2000, central government started a scheme for more than 1,700 fast-track courts to try to clear the backlog of cases clogging up the Indian judicial system, partly related to a shortage of judges
  • Funding is an issue because the central government said it could no longer fund them after March 2011, leaving future funding decisions to individual states

The five accused have been named as Ram Singh, his brother Mukesh, Pawan Gupta, Vinay Sharma and Akshay Thakur.

The lawyer for Ram Singh, said he would file a petition arguing for the case to be transferred out of Delhi, fearing that the proceedings might be prejudiced because of the intense media interest.

"We are sure we will not get justice in Delhi," VK Ananad said.

Last week another lawyer claimed that the men had been tortured and coerced into confessing they were guilty. Officials refused to comment on the allegations, citing legal restrictions.

The lawyers for two of the suspects have said they will plead not guilty. It is unclear how the three accused will plead. Prosecutors have said they have extensive forensic evidence.

The victim, a physiotherapy student who cannot be named in India for legal reasons, and a male friend were attacked on a bus in south Delhi on 16 December. She died two weeks later in hospital in Singapore.

Campaigners are calling for tougher rape laws and reforms to the police, who - critics say - often fail to file charges against accused attackers.

The government has said that it will bring in stronger sexual assault laws and has established several committees to recommend changes in the law.

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