Observing that any condemned convict is entitled to avail legal aid till his last breath, a Delhi court on Wednesday gave Pawan Gupta, a death-row convict in Nirbhaya gangrape and murder case, the liberty to choose his own counsel after his lawyer refused to represent him in the matter.

During the hearing on the issuance of a fresh death warrant, Advocate AP Singh apprised the court that he no longer represents convict Pawan Gupta in the case.

Out of the four convicts, Pawan is the only one who has not yet availed of the remedy of either curative or mercy petitions, which will be the last judicial and constitutional resort available to him.

Pawan had removed his earlier lawyer and told the court that he will need time to engage a new one to which Additional Sessions Judge Dharmendra Rana expressed his displeasure.

Nirbhaya’s parents and the Delhi government had moved an application on Tuesday seeking issuance of fresh death warrant against the3 four convicts — Mukesh Singh, Vinay Sharma, Akshay Thakur Singh and Pawan Gupta.

However, after the fresh development, the Additional Sessions Judge adjourned the matter till Thursday.

“Let justice be done even though heaven falls. The court reserves an opinion that any condemned convict is entitled legal aid till his last breath,” the judge stated.

He gave Pawan the “liberty to choose” his counsel from the list of empanelled advocates of the Delhi State Legal Service Authority.

The court also directed to provide a list of empanelled advocates to convict Pawan and the Jail Superintendent.

“Granting the prayer made into the application without hearing the counsel of convict would render further hearing in the matter as ornamental and superfluous,” the court observed. The matter will now be heard on February 13 at 3 pm.

The Patiala House Court further observed that adequate time should be given to Pawan to choose his counsel and also to the lawyer to study the case.

“In order to avoid any delay, AP Singh must provide the file of convict Pawan so that the learned counsel to be assigned to him is in a position to represent him in the court tomorrow,” Judge Dharmendra Rana said.

During the course of proceedings, lawyers representing Nirbhaya’s family said that the convicts are adopting “all kinds of delay tactics to avoid execution of death warrant”.

It was further argued that the move was another ploy to derail the proceedings.

Nirbhaya’s mother, Asha Devi, broke down in the courtroom and pleaded with folded hands in front of the judge saying she has been seeking a date of hanging of the four convicts for years now.

“What about my rights? I am standing with folded hands. Please issue death warrant. I am also a human. It’s been more than seven years,” she said as she wept.

With tears in her eyes, the victim’s mother left the courtroom saying “I am losing faith and hope now. Court must understand the delay tactics of the convicts. Now if a new lawyer is provided to convict Pawan, he/she will take his/her own time to go through case files”.

Speaking to reporters outside the court, Asha Devi said: “The judge does not want to fix a date for hanging the convicts and is supporting them.”

She also appealed to the Supreme Court to issue the death warrant stating that the Patiala House Court is in “no mood to issue a fresh death warrant.”

Later, Nirbhaya’s parents and women rights activist Yogita Bhayana staged a demonstration outside the trial court demanding hanging of the convicts.

The Patiala House Court had last Friday dismissed a request by the Tihar Jail authorities seeking fresh warrants to hang all the four convicts in the Nirbhaya case stating that “it is criminally sinful to execute the convicts when the law permits them to live”.

The court, while dismissing the plea of prosecution, stated that death warrants cannot be issued on the basis of conjecture alone.

The Delhi High Court last Wednesday ruled that all the four convicts in the Nirbhaya gangrape and murder case should exercise their legal remedies within a week.

Post one week, the proceedings against the convicts for the execution of death warrant will be initiated.

The Patiala House Court had on January 31 deferred the hanging of four convicts in Nirbhaya gangrape and murder case — scheduled for February 1 — till further orders.

Earlier, according to a January 7 order, the convicts were to be hanged at 7 am on January 22.

The 23-year-old woman, who came to be known as Nirbhaya, was gangraped and tortured on December 16, 2012, in a moving bus which led to her death. All the six accused were arrested and charged with sexual assault and murder. One of the accused was a minor and appeared before a juvenile justice court, while another accused committed suicide in Tihar Jail.

Four of the convicts were sentenced to death by a trial court in September 2013, and the verdict confirmed by the Delhi High Court in March 2014 and upheld by the Supreme Court in May 2017, which also dismissed their review petition in July 2018.