Despite growing public pressure, the government and the judiciary, both, have shied away from taking decisive steps to make time-bound trials mandatory in cases of sexual assault against women even after the December 16 gang-rape incident.
In a bid to douse public anger following the December 16 gang rape, the government asked a panel headed by former CJI late JS Verma for strengthening anti-rape laws. The panel, which had former high court chief justice Leila Seth and former solicitor general Gopal Subramanium as its members, had submitted its 644-page voluminous report to the government in less than a month.
But nine months after the gang-rape, it appears to have ignored panel's recommendations on systemic changes required to end discrimination against women.
Faced with outrage across the nation following the gang-rape, the government had accepted the popular demand.
It had introduced death penalty as the maximum punishment in rape cases in which the victim dies or is left in a permanent vegetative state.
The government first brought an ordinance in February based on the panel’s recommendations to update the criminal laws for providing an effective deterrent against sexual assault on women.
This was followed-up by the Criminal Laws (Amendment) Bill being passed in both Houses of Parliament by March-end in response to growing demands for tougher anti-rape laws.
The Justice Verma panel had made sweeping recommendations on changes required in the society to end discrimination against women and for their equal participation in different spheres of life.
The government view, however, was that the panel was specifically set-up to make recommendations on how to make anti-rape laws more stringent and other recommendations were beyond its mandate.
These were referred to the ministries concerned, but it appears the recommendations have been forgotten. The panel had drafted a bill of rights granted to women under the constitution.
It stated :”Every woman shall be entitled to respect for her life and the integrity and security of her person. All forms of violence, exploitation, cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment and treatment targeting women are prohibited.”
The Justice Verma panel had cited India’s international commitments to point out that there was a need to update the existing laws to ensure they provided gender justice and gave women a chance to fight against widespread discrimination.
On how rape victims are treated in the society, the panel had asked the government to change the “old crude methods” of medical examination of such victims and make necessary amendments in the law to make sure that they are never confronted with the accused who have inflicted physical and mental injuries on them.
The government went beyond the recommendations of the Verma panel on strengthening anti-rape laws, on enhanced punishment for those guilty of committing crimes against women.
It, however, stopped short of fixing a definite time limit within which the trials in such cases should be completed. In the Criminal Laws (Amendment) Act, which came into force in April this year, the government did mention it, but in the form of advice for courts.
The amended section 309 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) now states: “In every trial, the proceedings shall be continued from day-to-day until all the witnesses in attendance have been examined.”
Despite the December 16 case having been tried in a fast-track court specifically set up, it took nine months to complete the trial.