The Delhi Government has announced the creation of 150 posts for judicial officers, but finding chamber and courtroom space in the existing six court complexes would be a problem

One of the demands of protestors in the aftermath of the gruesome gang-rape of the 23-year-old physiotherapy student in Delhi was speedy justice. The Delhi High Court responded by opening six new fast track courts to try cases of sexual offences against women and directed all Sessions courts to transfer such cases to the designated courts.

According to official statistics, as on July 1, 2012, there were 889 cases of rape pending in Session courts, which indicate that each of these new fast-track courts would have an average of over 100 cases to dispose of in the months ahead. This will be in addition to the fresh cases that will get committed to these courts.

The rape cases involving minor victims will be tried at the designated children courts formed under the recently notified Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012. Cases which are at the final stages – in which recording of statement of the accused persons is taking place or in which the arguments are in final stage – will be concluded by the Sessions courts that were earlier trying the case.

Lawyers suggest that additional fast-track courts could be formed for handling fresh cases to free up some of the burden on these six fast-track courts. They also point to the burden placed on other Sessions courts where cases that were tried by these six judges have now been transferred.

Advocate Rebecca John is in favour of fast-tracking Sessions cases but is opposed to the practice of forming special courts out of the existing pool of judges. “The simple fact is that the Sessions judges are overburdened. In response to the Anna movement, several anti-corruption courts were formed and now there are 26 of them, many of which have very few cases on hand. The forming of the six fast-track courts was a knee-jerk, populist measure without addressing many other deficiencies and infrastructure woes. Of the 89 Sessions courts in Delhi, several are special courts now. What about Sessions cases of murder, terror attacks, dacoity? Don’t they have to be disposed of quickly too. These cases will suffer even more delays now.”

The Delhi Government has announced the creation of 150 posts for judicial officers, but finding chamber and courtroom space in the existing six court complexes would be a problem.

Meanwhile, the pursuit of speedy justice will see trial courts curb the practice of lawyers taking adjournments. An order of the Supreme Court in December 2012 has been circulated to all the High Courts to frame guidelines on the new adjournment policy to be adopted.

Speeding up the trial would also reduce the possibility of the accused winning over witnesses or coercing victims and witnesses and victims going untraceable. “We need stronger perjury provisions. More importantly, courts have to take instances of perjury seriously and direct lodging of cases, which is not being done now. Also a number of witnesses listed by the prosecution in the charge-sheet are superfluous or need not be called to depose for trial if the accused person and defence counsel do not reject their statements,” a public prosecutor said.

On any given day, the cause lists of Sessions courts have on an average 10-15 cases listed for arguments on charge, order on charge, evidence, final arguments, and orders besides bail and other miscellaneous matters while a magistrate can have anywhere between 50 and 150 cases to hear daily. The prosecutor said that an efficient Sessions court makes effective progress in just five of these 15 cases on a daily basis.

The 2009 amendment of the Criminal Procedure Code has also allowed courts to take written statements of accused persons under Section 313 of Cr.PC. Courts are also encouraging submitting of written memorandum of arguments during the charge and final arguments stage to save time.

In the words of a staff member of one of the new fast-track sexual offences courts, “Courts abhi chal nahi rahe; daud nahi rahe; bhaag rahe hein.”

More In: Delhi