An 11-month rape trial is being described as an example of speedy justice. But every minute of this period must have stretched out for the victim. “I have been made to re-live my trauma again and again,” the 26-year-old woman had told the Supreme Court.
But given the snail-paced justice delivery system in India, this can be considered to be a fast-track trial.
Many rape trials have concluded within days but such trials are exceptions and not a norm in the country where total number of rape cases stood at 36,735 in 2014.
This is second high-profile rape case in Delhi after the December 16, 2012 gang rape case wherein the trial has been completed in less than a year. The Nirbhaya case took just nine months to conclude.
Often described as rape capital of India, Delhi registered 2,096 cases of rape in 2014 as compared to 1,441 in 2013 and 585 in 2012.
Despite setting up of six fast-track courts to try rape cases after the Nirbhaya case, the situation does not appear to have improved much. It was for this reason chief minister Arvind Kejriwal announced last month that his government would fast-track all pending rape cases in the Capital.
But fast-tracking of trial alone won’t help as the delay is not limited to trial courts alone. The victim of 1995 Suryanelli sex scandal in Kerala is still awaiting justice as the convicts’ appeal remains pending in the Supreme Court. Unfortunately, she is not the only one.
India needs many more fast-track courts to conduct quick trial and hand down harsher punishment to the guilty.
It also requires more judges. Despite the Law Commission’s recommendations and the top court’s directions to raise India’s judge population ratio from 14 judges per 10 lakh population to 50 judges per 10 lakh population, things have not improved.
According to official figures released by the SC on its website, out of 19,726 sanctioned posts of judges in district courts, 4,288 posts are lying vacant.
Courts alone are not to be blamed. Much of the delay is due to policemen ill-equipped in collection of forensic evidence — crucial to cracking the case. This is further compounded by delay in getting forensic reports from labs.
Transfer of police witnesses, unnecessary adjournments sought by defence lawyers, lack of gender sensitivity on the part of judiciary, quality of public prosecutors also contribute to the inordinate delay.
The Uber rape case was delayed by almost six months due to the delaying tactics adopted by the accused. The SC came down heavily on accused Shiv Kumar Yadav for delaying the trial and rejected his plea to re-examine 13 witnesses including the victim on the ground he had changed his counsel.
Despite all these constraints fast track courts are doing a good job. What is needed is prescribing time-bound procedure for them at every stage of the trial as is the case in many western countries.