A whopping Rs 31 crore has already been spent to protect Ajmal Kasab, the lone surviving terrorist in the Mumbai terror attack. There was a hue and cry over the amount that was being spent and what the public found more disturbing was that the trial has taken almost a year to complete.
Making matters worse, the special court, hearing the 26/11 case exclusively, has even sacked the defence counsel which many feel will only contribute to more delay. However legal luminaries feel that sacking the lawyer would not have much of an impact on the length of the trial. The real reason for the delay in completing the trial is the "unnecessary examination" of 590 witnesses in the case. Already 270 witnesses in the case have been examined and the prosecution intends to examine the remaining 320 witnesses which will only contribute to further delay.
Justice N Santhosh Hegde, former Supreme Court judge, takes us through a judgment of the highest court of the land where examination of witnesses is concerned. On not one but several occasions, the Supreme Court has said in clear terms that the quantity of the witnesses is never important in a case. It is the quality that should matter. It will take minimum one more year to get the trial completed."
"Regarding the Kasab case, there are 590 witnesses and there is nothing new that each one is going to speak out. I think that the examination of 270 witnesses is good enough for a case. A batch of witnesses, including police officers, has been picked from each spot. Each of the witnesses in such a case gives more a less a same account of the incident. Hence it is really not important to go into everyone's statements and by doing so the prosecution is only wasting time," he said.
Legal experts further say it is not too late to give up the remaining witnesses and conclude the trial. The Supreme Court, too, has said that it is very important to speed up the trial and under no circumstance that time should be wasted examining witnesses unnecessarily. It is entirely up to the prosecution to select the witnesses and ensure that some quality statements come out of it.
Justice Hegde says that the defence counsel can always argue that if the witnesses are dropped it could affect their case since the non-examined witnesses could give a different spin to the case. In such a circumstance, it is for the court to step in and take a call, according to the Supreme Court.
The court has to put its foot down and prevail upon the defence counsel that examining the witnesses who give out the same statements is only contributing to a delay. Moreover, the court in this case knows for a fact that good evidence has already been produced from the 270 examined witnesses and hence it is not necessary to examine the rest.
The prosecution or the court need not worry about not examining the rest of the witnesses since there is already a confession on record sworn before the magistrate. This is very much evidence in the court and once the accused himself has pleaded guilty, there is no need of going on with the rest of the witnesses which would easily take another year to complete examining.
In this case it is for the prosecuting agency to take a call and behave more responsibly to ensure that such a high profile case which is costing the exchequer a huge sum is completed at once.
Justice Hegde says that the court and the prosecution should aim to complete the trial and not continue with the trial for international consumption. The Indian judiciary does have this tendency to show the rest of the world as to how fair they are. This is a horrific case and instead of showing too much restraint, it is important that we should send across a message that terrorists on our soil are tried and done away with fast.
Regarding the change in lawyer, it will not affect the case too much. The new lawyer on record will not have to start from scratch. There could be a delay of a week at the most since he will need to brush up with the papers. However in this case they have selected a lawyer who has been assisting the earlier one and he has the continuity of the case which will in turn not delay proceedings.