As many as 23 CBI courts meant to ensure quick disposal of the central agency’s cases in the capital city delivered judgments only in 101 of 908 pending cases through 2016.
This has spurred legal experts to suggest that as many of these courts were not being utilised to their full potential, their judges should be reassigned elsewhere. Such a move, they say, will bring respite to an otherwise overburdened judicial system.
An RTI application filed by Hindustan Times has revealed that the number of CBI cases in the six districts of Delhi is decreasing, as is the disposal rates of the courts. In 2014, its 23 courts had 839 cases pending before them. Only 238 cases had been decided by the end of the year, with the courts showing a mere 28% rate of disposal.
While the disposal rate of the courts increased to 413 cases in 2015, the pendency of cases also rose to 787. On an average, each judge disposed less than 18 cases a year.
The CBI courts were created through a Supreme Court order in 2005 to tackle the increasing number of corruption cases. However, legal experts cite the low rate of disposal to say that the courts are now becoming “useless”. “The judges don’t even come of their chambers most of these days,” said a CBI prosecutor on the condition of anonymity.
Many cases remain stuck before trial courts for years on account of appeals pending before higher courts. “About 90% of the cases are waiting to be heard in the trial court because an appeal has been filed in the high court. As they usually ask for the case file, the trial court judge has nothing to work with,” a CBI prosecutor told HT on the condition of anonymity.
This results in overburdening of other special courts, and sensitive cases involving vulnerable victims and witnesses getting delayed indefinitely. There is a huge disparity in the workloads of various district courts in Delhi.
For instance, Delhi has only six fast track courts to deal with crimes against women despite its notoriety as the nation’s rape capital. With the rising number of rapes — six cases are reported in Delhi everyday — these six judges were struggling with a pendency of 782 cases as of January 1 this year.
Another set of overburdened judicial officers who could benefit from some of the workload being removed from their plates are top additional sessions judges in trial courts. The ASJ-1s courts, which deal with criminal appeals, murders, heinous crimes and terrorism-related cases, also handle all child sexual assault cases. Over 2,500 cases were pending before such courts this year alone.
So, while each of the 23 CBI judges in Delhi had to decide an average of 39 cases in 2016, a single judge at a fast track court was required to dispose of 130 cases. The seven top additional sessions courts in the city, on the other hand, were burdened with 358 cases per judge.
ASJ-1 courts, which have to work on POCSO (Protection of Children from Sexual Offences) cases as well as other portfolios, are in a dire situation. According to a 2015 study by the Delhi Commission for Protection of Child Rights, 85% of all child sexual assault cases remain pending before these courts. A data survey by HT showed that only 170 POCSO cases are decided in a year, and a mere 12% culminate in convictions.
A study by the Council to Secure Justice – an NGO that deals exclusively with child rape cases – has proposed that separate courts be instituted for POCSO cases because they require more time, and special training for judges and prosecution officials.
However, the NGO admits this could just be a pipe dream – given the growing pendency of cases and lack of judicial resources.
Not everybody is this pessimistic, though. Some experts believe the pendency problem can be resolved with a simple reshuffling of judges. “Half the judges in the courts are not working while the other half are overburdened,” said retired Delhi high court judge SN Dhingra, adding that the disproportionate workload and redundant courts amount to a “failure” on the part of the judicial system. “The top administration is unaware of the ground realities in the district court. They need to do a proper study to see how work can be distributed properly, and what kinds of courts are actually needed,” he added.
HT’s calls to the CBI spokesperson for his comment on the high number of ‘defunct’ courts went unanswered.