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Last Updated: Wednesday, 13 September 2006, 17:20 GMT 18:20 UK
Long wait for Mumbai blasts justice
Monica Chadha
BBC News, Mumbai

Court security
Police have been out in force around the courtroom

Thirteen years and six months after a series of blasts ripped through the Indian city of Mumbai (Bombay), killing more than 250 people, Judge PD Kode began reading out his judgement.

It is possibly the longest-running criminal trial in India and security outside and inside the special court is extraordinarily tight.

The courtroom was packed to capacity. Journalists crowded around the front while the accused trooped in one after another and sat on benches at the back of the court.

They seemed at ease and there was a sense of camaraderie with them talking to each other while others waved to known faces.

Lives changed

The lawyer representing 80 of the 123 accused standing trial, Farhana Shah, said over the years all of them had developed affection for each other.

Suresh Memon - one of three acquitted
Suresh Memon - one of three acquitted

"Thirteen years is a long time and we developed a family bond after meeting one another almost every day. After all we are also human beings."

Ms Shah said most of the accused who were out on bail and the relatives of those who were in jail even attended her wedding in 1998. The guest list included Bollywood actor Sanjay Dutt who is among the accused.

"Sanjay along with his father, Sunil Dutt and sister Priya also attended my wedding. They were all there," she said.

Ms Shah said her clients had been impatiently waiting for this day for a very long time.

"People's lives have changed while waiting for this verdict. Time gone cannot come back but better late than never."

Eleven accused died while the trial was under way.

'Difficulties'

Lawyers involved in the case agree the judgement has come in late but they maintain it has been a difficult one to crack.

Public prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam
We face many difficulties when trying to establish serious charges against the accused
Public prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam

Public prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam said: "In this trial, we have to date examined nearly 700 witnesses, while 35,000 documents' worth of evidence have been recorded."

"According to the Indian judicial system, every point has to be proven by the prosecution including those that are often presumed in foreign countries.

"Every person or accused is supposed to be innocent until the prosecution proves the charge against him or her. That's why we face many difficulties when trying to establish serious charges against the accused."

Criminal lawyer Majeed Memon also represents some of the accused in the case. He said considering the volume of evidence, witness accounts and the number of accused standing trial, the judge did have a very difficult task before him.

"The judge has to look at so many aspects of the case. He has to decide on the fate of more than 100 people and then have to say something about the country, about terrorism. This is a very big challenge for him," he said.

'Too slow'

However, retired former judge of the Bombay High Court, Hosbet Suresh, said the judgement should have come out much sooner than now.

"Such a delay is injustice to the accused and injustice to the victims," he said.

"The Indian judicial system is indeed stretched at present with not even 15 judges per million people but there has also been a gradual decline in standard of efficiency amongst lawyers, police and judges."

He said: "This is not how the trial should have gone. The arguments were wrapped up three and a half years ago. The judge should have only taken some more months to dictate his judgement and then given out the verdict all at once. It is not difficult."

However, Judge Kode has said it is not possible for him to read out the entire verdict all at once and has decided to do it in phases.

The cases of the first eight accused were taken up on Tuesday - four were found guilty. There are another 115 accused to go.

The judge still has to sentence all those he finds guilty, so everyone will have to wait just a bit longer.




SEE ALSO
In pictures: 1993 Mumbai blasts
12 Sep 06 |  In Pictures
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