We often complain about the wheels of justice moving too slowly in this country, but for Dr Rajesh and Nupur Talwar, on trial for the 2008 murder of their daughter and servant, they are moving a little too fast.
On May 4, the trial court in Ghaziabad had rejected an application by the Talwars that the court calls about a dozen more witnesses, because the prosecution wouldn’t. The trial judge rejected the plea and ordered that the accused prepare to answer the court’s questions on the evidence against them. This is what happens after the prosecution has rested its evidence; is done with all the witnesses it wishes to call, and just the before the defence begins calling people to testify on its behalf. This is technically, the halfway stage of the trial,
But in reality, it is much closer to the end: the number of witnesses the defence calls is usually a fraction of those used by the prosecution.
On being rejected by the trial court—not for the first time—the Talwars took the case higher up. On Tuesday, they filed a special leave petition in the Supreme Court seeking a direction for the lower court.
But they did not have much time. Even as the Talwars were struggling to get their matter mentioned in the Supreme Court, currently very busy with the cases against telecom giants, judge Shyam Lal in Ghaziabad set Friday for his questions—and their answers.
The Talwars will try mentioning their matter once again before the Supreme Court on Thursday. If their lawyers are able to convince the judges in less than five minutes that there is some merit, their petition will get listed—get a ‘number’ and be heard in due course.
From all accounts, this is a very long shot. There is a queue of lawyers—from legal eagles to crowing counsels—who are in line seeking the same thing for their clients. For people in some situations, the justice system does move too fast.
Why did the Talwars move the Supreme Court directly after the trial court order? The answer to that is in their prayer: they have filed applications in the Allahabad High Court (under whose jurisdiction Ghaziabad falls) months ago on matters such as placing documents crucial to the defence on record. Those petitions have never come up.
Meanwhile, the witnesses whose cross-examinations those documents would have informed have come and gone. Their statements recorded by the trial court, without the uncomfortable questions that the documents would have posed. (Exactly how, for instance, was a forensic report that implicated someone other than the Talwars, “corrected” so that it suddenly did not?). Even if those applications do come up now, they will be irrelevant. The court’s business with the witness is technically complete.
So a lot of times, the justice system, as we all know, moves very slowly—or in this case, doesn’t move at all.
The reality of the rhythm of some courts playing T20, and others open-ended Test matches (even cricket has discarded those), has imposed itself on this trial, and will dictate whether the accused get a fair shot at defending themselves.
The Supreme Court may hear them or it may not. It may direct the lower court to call witnesses, or it may not. Whatever happens
will happen in 24 hours.
The Indian justice system plays that format, too.