Fast Track courts: Downfall of a vision

Key takeaways

  • Introduction-Indian Judiciary
  • Fast Track Courts- meaning and objectives
  • Downfall of FTCs
  • Changes required to improve the condition of FTCs
  • Conclusion

Introduction

Indian Judiciary is infamously famous for the huge line of pending cases piled up in its closet. The number of pending cases in India is alarming. In a report given by the National Judicial Data Grid in 2018 around thirty million cases are pending in courts all across India. From all the pending cases, around 7 million are older than 5 years and 2.3 million are even older than a decade. This pendency of cases puts a question on the efficiency of the Indian Judicial System. It is so distressing thinking that a victim who is already grieving for his loss suffers more because of the inefficiency of the justice providers. It gives us a set-back to think that one body that solely exists to provide justice to every citizen and end their miseries can become one of the major factors of their sufferings as well.

Fast Track Courts

Fast-track courts are special courts that deal with the specific field of law and provide speedy justice to the victims. Fast Track courts were introduced in India in 2000 for reducing the burden from the high courts and other lower courts and provide speedy justice to the people. At that time, around three crores of cases were pending, and to help solve those cases sooner, the 11th Finance Commission approved the creation of 1734 Fast Track courts all over the country for the experimental period of five years out of which only 1562

fast tracks courts were functioning by 2005.

Main Objective of Fast Track Courts

The delay and the lack of accountability in the cases amount to a daily mockery of the fundamental right of speedy trial. The Honorable Supreme Court in the case of, Hussainara Khatoon V. State of Bihar AIR 1979 SC 1364, made it clear that "speedy trial is of essence to criminal justice and there can be no doubt that delay in trial by itself constitutes a denial of justice"

The Fast Track courts came into existence with the following aims in mind;

a) The main objective was to provide speedy justice to a large number of pending cases in a specified time. Judges are appointed on an Ad Hoc basis and retired judges are eligible for selection.

b) They were also considered to be a good way to handle sexual assault and cases related to children since here they will get the full attention of the judiciary and upheld the judiciary's commitment to end sexual and gender-based violence. Fast track courts were to provide speedy and accurate justice to sexual and gender-based violence.

c) Another aim was to help in solving an enormous amount of pending cases and remove the burden from the high court and other courts.

d) Fast Tracks were also expected to reduce the number of undertrials in jail, India is a country with a huge amount of people in jails waiting for their trial or going through a trial and the number keeps increasing day by day.

What went wrong?

The sole purpose of the existence of the fast track courts has been lost somewhere. Fast-track courts address different kinds of cases related to crime against women, child trafficking under the POSCO Act, crime against senior citizens, crime against disabled people, and heinous crimes. Fast track courts were basically established to provide swift justice but in its initial four years only, when it was provided with eight lakh cases, it could only cover around 3.8 lakhs in the period of four years. They were made to curb the number of pending cases however according to the data provided by National Crime Records Bureau, the number of pending cases doubled in the period of two decades, from 4.9 million in 2000 to 11.3 million in 2019 under the I.P.C. It also reported that nearly 81% of cases from the 26,965 cases completed by fast track court in the year 2019 took anywhere between one to ten years for the trial to be completed. FTCs for disposing of the matter quickly have taken decisions worse and more harmful for both the parties because of the lack of time.

To dispose of a case quickly no thorough investigation is performed in various cases and hence FTCs have lost their essence of servicing justice to the people.

There are certain factors that need the alarming attention of the authorities and because of this; the fast track cannot fulfill the sole purpose of its existence.

1. Systematic issues
Identifying the systematic issues and addressing them a very important factor in deciding the amount taken for disposal of any case. Many such issues delay the procedure and therefore result in delayed justice.
First of all, the amount funded (lack of funding) to the fast track courts since their very start was never enough. It was initially funded with rupees five hundred and two crores for establishing 1734 additional courts in different states for a period of five years, even if you just consider building the court halls and buildings the amount was not sufficient. After 2012, the Honorable Supreme Court left it on the discretion of the states whether they want to maintain the funding and continue the FTCs or not.
The lack of funding results in the presence of inadequate staff to complete the work, insufficient IT infrastructure, delay in getting forensic reports from the understaffed laboratories; which ultimately results in the over the listing of cases and hence the delayed justice.

2. State vise variation
State by state variation in the working of the judiciary and the funds provided to them also affects the working of the courts on a large scale. In a survey on Fast Track courts conducted by the National Law University, Delhi, it was observed that there is a huge amount of variation in the types of cases handled by the FTCs in different states. Some states primarily allocate rape and sexual offense cases to them however some other states allocate various other matters to FTCs as well. Further, in 2012 in the case of, Brij Mohan Lal V. Union of India, 2002, the court left it at the discretion of the states whether they wanted to continue the FTCs or shut them down based on the financial situation. Accordingly, Chattisgarh shut down all its FTCs, Delhi, West-Bengal, Himachal Pradesh, and Karnataka decided to continue them till 2013 while Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, and Kerela had said that they would continue the FTCs. Further, given the vacancies in subordinate courts, it also needs to be seen whether the state will appoint FTCs from the current pool of judges or it will hire additional judges. In some cases, the state does appoint the judges from the current pool of judges which increases the number of cases in that judges list to dispose of. Also, after everything is said and done, it is finally the responsibility of the state to make sure that the entire exercise results in a positive change.

3. Legal Logjam
A legal Logjam is a situation in which neither group involved in an argument can win or gain an advantage over the other and no action can be taken. Such a situation arises because of various factors such as:

  • Across the lower courts, one of the main factors responsible for the delay is the absence of the witness. The absence of a witness is one of the main reasons for the adjournment.
  • Another reason for the delay is the adjournments sought by the lawyers, we have this culture in the Indian judiciary where sometimes both the client and the lawyer seek adjournments to further delay the proceedings of the case and drag it for a longer period of time
  • One of the reasons for the legal logjam is that the decision of FTCs is challenged in the higher courts whereby then the same case is present in the system for a very long period of time.
  • Also, in the amendment in Sec.309 of C.R.P.C, the limit to dispose of rape-related cases has been set at two months from the date of filing of the charge sheet. However, procedural steps to be followed in such cases on average take a longer duration as it has to go through the various stages of evidence and final judgment. Such situations also cause delay.

4. Overburdened judges

The judicial officers are generally constrained in terms of time and capacity. In the Fast track courts as well as other courts there are inadequate judges appointed which results in a lot of cases in a particular judge's hand and a longer wait for the date of hearing. Also, AD-hoc judges are appointed at FTCs from the retired district, and session judges who are more or less judge from the sessions court are given the "extra responsibility" of the FTC's.
According to the Standing Committee Report, as of February 2020, around 21% of the sanctioned strength (24,018) of judicial officers in subordinate courts was vacant in different states; and of the 5,146 vacancies, large numbers of seats were vacant in Uttar Pradesh, 776 vacant seats in Bihar, 370 in M.P, 309 in Rajasthan and 308 in Gujarat.
In the same report, the increasing of pending cases from 26.1 million in 2018 to 31.7 million as of Jan 2020.

A road to refinement

Now, the judiciary is standing at such a point that if major steps are not taken then there will be no faith left in the Indian Judiciary by the people. People will stop believing that one day they will be granted justice, that our judiciary will provide them with the justice that they deserve. For improving the current condition following steps are taken and can be taken:

  • In 2019, the central government has decided to approve setting up 1,023 fast-track special courts all over the country for disposal of pending rape cases under I.P.C and crimes under the POSCO Act. Rupees 140 crores were released in the FY 19-20 and rupees 57.7 crores had been released in FY 20-21 for the scheme in which each Fast Track Special Court is expected to dispose of 41-42 cases every three months and at least 165 cases in a year. Accordingly, for the same, the release of funds will depend on the plans submitted by the states.
  • Also, in July 2019, the Honorable Supreme Court also directed the setting up of a centrally funded special court in each district where more than 100 FIRs are registered under the POSCO Act in order to deal exclusively with these cases only.
  • An adequate amount of staff and funds should also be provided to the already present FTCs to improve the quality and avoid legal logjam in the working and speedy serving of justice.

Conclusion

As people are becoming more aware of their legal rights, the need for justice is increasing day by day. In a country like India where thousands number of cases are reported daily, it is high time for refining our judicial system. The pending and compiling of cases is increasing but the numbers of closed cases are comparatively way lesser. We need to make our judicial system efficient and serve justice to everyone. As far as Fast Track courts are concerns where changes are required in its working so it can actually become fast in spirit, not just in letters.

 

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