Almost nine months it took for a Delhi special court to conclude the December 16 gang rape and murder trial. Going by the pace at which India’s justice delivery system moves, it’s fast.
But can it be faster? For, 24,000 rape victims all over the country are still waiting for justice.
Although there are records of faster trials (see graphics) – a Bihar court concluded a rape case in two days flat -- they are seen more as exceptions than routine. The normal state of affairs can be gauged when a victim of a sex scandal in Kerala is asked to appear in 22 rape cases 18 years after she was allegedly abducted and raped.
“Usually, a rape trial must not take more than a month,” says advocate Shilpi Jain, who was lawyer for a German rape victim in Alwar. She said, “Recording of testimonies of witnesses usually takes about two hours and more than two witnesses can be examined in a day. There are rarely more than 20 witnesses in a rape case.”
After the 16/12 incident, then Chief Justice of India Altamas Kabir asked all the high courts to fast-track cases related to crimes against women. Accordingly, five such courts were set up in Delhi. But can setting up fast-track courts alone solve the problem?
In fact, India needs many more courts and judges to specifically deal with offences against women for quicker trial. Now, there are only 14 judges for one million people despite the Law Commission’s recommendations and Supreme Court’s directions that the number be raised to 50.
According to the latest figures released by the Supreme Court on its website, of the 17,866 sanctioned posts of judges in district courts, 3,732 posts are lying vacant.
Both legal experts and investigators say that the process of delay usually begins when the police take up a case. As rape cases rarely have eyewitnesses, collection of forensic evidence becomes crucial to cracking the case. But the police do not have proper training in investigation and collecting evidence.
Then begins the process of getting forensic tests done. But since there are only four central forensic laboratories in India in Hyderabad, Kolkata, Chandigarh and New Delhi, reports take forever to come.
What’s more, transfer of police witnesses, unnecessary adjournments sought by defence lawyers, lack of gender sensitivity on the part of the judiciary and ill-equipped public prosecutors also contribute to delay in justice.
Former Uttar Pradesh police chief and vice chancellor of Noida International University Vikram Singh confirmed that police lapses during investigations and trials lead to delays in rape verdicts. “What is needed is proper training and gender sensitisation of the entire police force,” he said.
“The investigating agencies have the responsibility of filing charge sheet and producing witnesses expeditiously. Unless we have better investigators who are honest, educated and committed, trials will continue to drag on for years,” Jain said.