A prosecutor who admits lying to influence opinion and the outcome of a trial

A trial in the media run in parallel to a trial in court is becoming – for both defence and prosecution – a necessary way of influencing the atmosphere in which the legal process is carried out.

Ajmal Kasab was the baby-faced terrorist who participated in the 26/11/2008 Mumbai bombings, was convicted on 80 charges in 2010 and was executed on 21st November 2012.

On 3 May 2010, Kasab was found guilty of 80 offences, including murder, waging war against India, possessing explosives, and other charges. On 6 May 2010, the same trial court sentenced him to death on four counts and to a life sentence on five counts. Kasab’s death sentence was upheld by the Bombay High Court on 21 February 2011. The verdict was upheld by the Supreme Court of India on 29 August 2012. Kasab was hanged on 21 November 2012 at 7:30 a.m. and buried at Yerwada Jail in Pune.

A remarkably rapid legal process by Indian standards. The speed of the process was undoubtedly influenced by public opinion and the outrage that the attack had generated. However sensationalised media reports during 2009, about Kasab’s “tears”, his assumed emotions and his apparent remorse during the trial created some sympathy especially among those opposed to the death penalty. This sympathy wave was then followed by a counter-wave in the media where it was reported that a remorseless Kasab was demanding “mutton biriyani”!  “Why feed terrorists biryani?” became a catch phrase and the trial process was even further speeded up.

But the biriyani story was entirely concocted by the Special Prosecutor who disseminated it in the media. He admitted this himself at a conference this week on counter-terrorism in Jaipur. He had taken it upon himself to mould public opinion such that his own case in court could be favourably influenced:

Economic Times: 26/11 Mumbai terror attack accused Ajmal Kasab’s demand for mutton biryani in jail was just a myth and was “concocted” to stop an “emotional wave” which was being created in favour of the militant, claimed Ujjwal Nikam, public prosecutor in the case.

“Kasab never demanded biryani and was never served by the government. I concocted it just to break an emotional atmosphere which was taking shape in favour of Kasab during the trial of the case,” Nikam told reporters on the sidelines of international conference on counter-terrorism.

Ujjwal Nikam is a high profile lawyer who – even when a trial is ongoing and is presumably sub judice – has few qualms about talking to the media. Already in 2009, he was being criticised by other lawyers about his propensity to prosecute his cases in the media:

Indian ExpressPublished on:July 28, 2009

Special public prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam has come under criticism from his own legal fraternity over what they allege his attempts to conduct trial outside the court for the 26/11 Mumbai attacks.

Around 20 lawyers at a meeting in the city passed a resolution criticising Nikam and advising him not to sit on judgment in the case before the final verdict is out. A copy of the resolution has been sent to the State Government,urging it to put a gag on Nikam in order to maintain the fairness of the trial.

“Some of the comments made by the special public prosecutor during his briefings to the media are objectionable and do not reflect the seriousness of the trial. You get the feeling that he is conducting a trial outside the court when he should actually be taking up those points before the judge and not before the media,” said advocate Sushil Mancharkar,who was present at the meeting.

But I don’t suppose that Ujjwal Nikam is going to change his methods of conducting his prosecutions in the media as an enhancement to his prosecutions in court. Especially, as has been fairly obvious in the recent Delhi rape cases, trials in court are not immune to public opinion.


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