The judicial system in India is rightly accused of taking so long that the verdict often becomes meaningless. However, the Patiala courts are looking to light the way.
Without any dedicated fast-track court to deal with cases against women, the Patiala district courts have settled as many 25 cases in a period of 40 working days, ending half of the pendency of rape cases.
The plan was envisaged by district and sessions judge Raj Shekher Attri early this year, after the Delhi gangrape-murder rocked the nation.
Selecting 32 trials of rape and dowry death out of the total 45 cases pending in various courts, Attri and his seven colleagues (additional district and session judges) decided two to three cases each. With daily hearings, some trials were concluded in three to seven days. Some of these cases were pending since 2004, while most of the cases were of 2010 onwards.
The court selected such cases where the chargesheet was in, charges were framed, there was no stay on trial by the high court, and no major accused or witness was a proclaimed offender. And the court also pursued lawyers to work faster to settle these cases at the earliest.
“I am thankful to the bar association and public prosecutors,” said Attri. “Where both the lawyers, accused and witnesses were available, we managed to conduct a speedy and fair trial.”
The trials of all these cases were video-reordered, so that no one can raise a question over credibility. Attri, who himself convicted a rape accused within five hearings, said, “Speedy trial is the right of the litigant. And after the high court's direction and some major incidents against women, we had decided to take up such cases on a day-to-day basis. Half the pendency of rape cases has been cleared, while the remaining cases would be concluded shortly."
Speedy trials have an overall positive impact. "We can't predict when and what type of crime will happen, but it is certain that such speedy trials have created a sense of fear," said senior superintendent of police (SSP) Gurpreet Singh.
Public prosecutor Sanjiv Batra credited computerisation, the role played by lawyers, the pro-active approach of judges, and the hard work of the investigation officers from the police with having transformed the system. He said speedy trial can be ensured if the police separate investigation and law and order tasks . "Investigation suffers or gets delayed as the police personnel are more occupied with law and order and VIP duties." The Punjab Governance Reforms Commission has also made the same suggestion to the government.
Second, Batra said, the number of public prosecutors has to be increased. "Our strength does not match the strength of judicial courts. Every public prosecutors is handing more than one court, which leads to delay," he added, demanding that whenever the government establishes a court, it should give automatic approval for a post of public prosecutor in that new court.
But high court lawyer Sarabjit Singh suggested caution, "Speedy justice is good, but the courts must accept that day-to-day trial is not possible in every case. There are some scientific evidences needed for the protection of clients like DNA reports, which can take time.”