First verdict for Delhi gang-rape due next week: Lawyer

NEW DELHI (AFP) - A juveniles' court in New Delhi is set to hand down the first verdict next week over the gang-rape of a student in the capital which sparked mass protests, a lawyer said on Friday.

The court has been hearing the case of a teenager, aged 17 at the time of the crime, who was one of six suspects arrested after the brutal assault of the woman on a moving bus.

"Arguments will be held first and then the judgement will be out," said defence lawyer Rajesh Tiwari, saying the verdict would be delivered on July 11.

Protests erupted across India in December and January following the fatal gang-rape of a 23-year-old student on a bus on December 16.

The crime, though far from rare in India, brought simmering anger among women about endemic harassment and violence to the surface and led the government to toughen its rape laws.

Tiwari said he was prohibited by the court from commenting on the trial or its result.

"At this stage we are barred by it from speaking on the expected verdict but after July 11 I will express my opinion," Tiwari told AFP.

The suspect cannot be named under Indian laws.

The juveniles' court can award a maximum term of three years to the suspect if he is convicted as the crime was committed when he was under 18.

Five other men were initially put on trial for gang-rape, murder and robbery among other charges and they face a maximum death penalty if convicted.

One of them, the alleged gang leader and the regular driver of the bus, died in prison in March after a suspected suicide.

The remaining four suspects are being tried in a special court set up to fast-track the case. The judge is examining the last of several hundred witnesses and is expected to deliver a verdict in the next few months.

The victim's family has been among those calling for the juvenile to be tried alongside the four other accused, who face the possibility of being hanged if found guilty of rape and murder charges.

But the Delhi-based Juvenile Justice Board accepted the school records of the teenage suspect, which states that he was born on June 4, 1995, making him 17 at the time of the crime.

The woman, a physiotherapy student, suffered massive intestinal injuries during the assault in which she was raped and violated with an iron bar.

She died 13 days later after the government flew her to a Singapore hospital in a last-ditch bid to save her life.