The Supreme Court on Thursday directed the setting up of special courts in each district across the country that had over a 100 cases of child abuse and sexual assault pending trial under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act.
A Bench led by the Chief Justice of India directed the courts to be set up within 60 days. They will be established under a Central scheme and fully funded by the Centre. This means the Centre would fund everything from the payment of the presiding officers, staff and support persons to the court’s child-friendly infrastructure.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta has been asked to file a progress report in four weeks. The court said it would take up the matter again on September 26.
The order came on a suo motu public interest litigation petition registered by the Supreme Court after being concerned by the “alarming rise” in child abuse cases and their long pendency in courts.
Noting that children were the victims in such cases, the CJI said there was no excuse for a long delay in justice for them. The traumatised victims needed to be treated with compassion and kindness. In short, a completely different approach was required while investigating and trying POCSO cases.
When told that there were two exclusive POCSO courts at the Saket court complex in the National Capital, the CJI said the Supreme Court was not talking with reference to Saket but about “those courts in certain States where privacy means drawing a curtain between the victim in a POCSO court and the accused.”
“We are concerned about States where there is hardly any infrastructure; where the Magistrate has hardly any room; where he or she sits in a small four-by-four enclosure. These presiding officers lack basic infrastructure yet are snowed under by cases under new laws... New law means new responsibility and additional burden for them...These are the real issues which affect the judiciary and not the Supreme Court Collegium,” Chief Justice Gogoi addressed the courtroom.
When one of the court officers sought more time to collect more data on POCSO cases, the CJI cut him short, saying “What more data is required here? Data to show that the country has more cases than judges?”
The Chief Justice then turned to the Solicitor General and told him, “Mr. Mehta, ask your government to make the money available [for the establishment of special POCSO courts].”
The court said the support persons in these special courts, who perform the crucial role of a bridge between the child victim and the court’s officers and investigators, should comprise dedicated people who had excellent academic qualifications and devoted to child rights.
The court, though it deferred any orders for the establishment of exclusive forensic laboratories for POCSO cases, ordered the directors of the existing ones to deal with POCSO case evidence promptly to cause no delay in the probe or trial of such cases.
The court had registered the PIL plea under the title ‘In-re Alarming Rise in The Number of Reported Child Rape Incidents.”
The PIL plea was instituted on the basis of the court’s own report that showed that from January 1 to June 30 this year, 24,212 First Information Reports were filed across India.
Of these, 11,981 were still being probed by the police and in 12,231 cases, the police had filed the charge sheets. Trial had commenced in 6,449 cases only, it said, adding that they were yet to commence in 4,871. Till now, the trial courts had decided only 911 cases, that is, about 4% of the total cases registered.