New Delhi: The setting up of a fast-track court at South Delhi’s Saket Court complex has paved the way for a speedy trial in the December 16 gang-rape case of a 23-year-old physiotherapy intern who subsequently died on December 29 in a Singapore hospital.
The Delhi High Court on Thursday notified the names of six judges for fast-track courts set up to conduct the speedy trial of rape cases in the metropolis. The brutal gang rape case will be heard in the court of Yogesh Khanna.
Fast-track courts became a reality when the XI Finance Commission recommended a scheme for creation of 1,734 fast-track court courts in the country for disposal of long pending cases and clearing the massive backlog in courts. The scheme was launched on an experimental basis for five years and was supposed to end on March 31, 2005. Its success, however, encouraged the governments to continue with the scheme.
Setting up fast-track courts is the responsibility of the state governments which is done in consultation with the concerned High Courts while the finance is provided by the federal finance ministry.
The concept of fast-track courts is based on Article 21 of the constitution which guarantees speedy trial.
The right to a speedy trial is first mentioned in a landmark document of the English law, Magna Carta. The concept of right to speedy trial has since grown. While they are called country courts in western nations and hear serious criminal offences excluding treason, murder and manslaughter, fast-track courts since its inception is hearing both civil and criminal cases in India.
Fast-track courts judges are appointed on an ad hoc basis from a group of retired sessions and additional sessions judges, judges promoted on ad hoc basis and posted in these courts or from among members of the Bar by the concerned High Court.
The original idea was that each of such courts would be required to dispose of 14 sessions trial cases and/or 20 to 25 criminal/civil cases every month.
The need for fast-track courts were felt mainly because of the vast number of pending cases in various courts and overcrowding in jails.
While the total number of pending cases are estimates to be in excess of 20.64 million, including over 50,000 in the Supreme Court itself, Indian jails are accommodating convicts and under trials at more than their original capacity leading to congestion, unhygienic conditions and a lack of basic amenities.
The 1,315 prisons in India have an authorised capacity of 252,117 prisoners only. However, according to estimates there is at least 36 per cent overcrowding in jails.
Authorities thus came up with the idea of fast-track courts and Lok Adalats for speedy disposal of pending cases and improve the overall situation in prisons.
Lok Adalats (Prison Courts) is held inside prisons to dispose off cases of undertrials involving petty offences like theft, retaining stolen property, breach of the peace and like minor offences.
Fast-track courts on the other hand are meant to cut short delays in regular courts.
Fast-track courts have over the years helped deliver speedy justice, particularly in rape cases. Rapists generally are given bail and there have been instances when they have committed more such crime while on bail. Since the fast-track courts deliver judgment fast, at times in less than a month, the accused is sent to jail instead of setting free on bail.
A 32-year-old hotel manager who raped a British journalist at Udaipur in Rajasthan was sentenced to life imprisonment by a fast-track court within months of the crime, while another fast-track court at Alwar in the same state sentenced accused B.H. Mohanty, son of a senior Orissa police officer, to seven years imprisonment for raping a German research student within 23 days of the crime taking place in April 2006 after deliberating it for just nine days.
One of the reasons fast-track courts manage to speed justice is because of the absence of adjournments. While normal courts adjourn hearings often on even flimsy grounds, fast-track court conduct trial on day-to-day basis, one case at a time.