Dec 16 gang rape: Fast-track courts fail to give speedy justice

  • Avantika Mehta, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Dec 16, 2015 13:29 IST
The massive outrage in the aftermath of December 16 gang rape had forced the government to act. (Sanjeev Verma/HT file photo)

Six fast-track courts were set up in the capital after the December 16 gang rape to dispense speedy justice to victims of sexual assault and to restore public confidence in the legal system. But in the absence of a law prescribing procedural guidelines and low disposal rate, their promise of quick justice has not been met.

Till April 2014, over 1,300 cases were pending in the six fast-track courts in Delhi.

Fast tracking matters was much in vogue in India in the early 2000s, when the law commission recommended setting up such courts to expedite commercial disputes. However, they were never approved by the Supreme Court, which in 2012 refused to strike down the Centre’s policy decision to stop funding the FTC scheme beyond March 31, 2011.

Instead, the apex court suggested several alternative measures to tackle the deep-seeded rot in the trial courts system that was slowing down justice.

Enlisting more judges, providing protection for victims who are susceptible to turning hostile were some of the SC’s suggestions.

Fast-track courts were revived after the Delhi gang rape on the recommendations of the Justice Verma Committee. On January 23, 2013, the committee concluded that speedy justice was essential for the proper functioning of criminal law enforcement. But while setting up fast-track courts in Delhi, the Centre did not pin down any specific procedures by which these courts must function. No amendments were moved in the criminal law or any legislative means to ensure that the judges in-charge had sufficient training and resources to dispose of a large number of cases. In this way, the government completely ignored the Verma committee’s suggestions, such as ensuring witness protection and sensitised judges, which were meant to compliment the setting up of the courts.

In the United Kingdom, where the concept was first experimented with, the courts are backed by special laws. The system is time-bound and gives a definite time to file pleadings, evidence, and dispose of the case.

In India, the burden of securing justice for the victims rest with the person on the dais. “Why is the victim being put on trial? One of the big shifts in other countries is that by considering all other corroborating circumstances, convictions are being gotten even without securing the complainant’s presence. Why is this shift not occurring in India? FTC means that you have to hear the case from day to day in accordance with law, you can’t hear the case day to day in accordance of your prejudices,” said Indira Jaisingh, former additional solicitor general.

Three years on, it seems fast-track courts were used as a tool to calm the swelling rage in the aftermath of the gang rape. They are yet to prove to be the tools to deliver speedy justice to sexual assault victims.

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