Fast Track Courts: A paradigm of speedy justice?

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The number of pending cases in India has reached an insurmountable magnitude. To grapple with this ever-increasing pile of pending cases, in the year 2000, the 11th Finance Commission, under the chairmanship of Professor Dr. Syed Ali Mohammad Khusro Hussaini had recommended the setting up of special courts known as Fast Track Courts.

Nearly 1800 Fast Track Courts were set up, which ensured that justice was significantly streamlined. However, in the subsequent decade, the nation was shaken as the news about a 23-year old’s brutal rape came to light. This case was seen to have played the role of a catalyst, further stimulating an even bigger need for the setting up of these Fast Track Courts.

One of the primary purposes of setting up these Fast Track Courts is to alleviate the whole situation of pendency of cases, especially those involving abominable, heinous crimes. The mechanism of Fast Track Courts complies with the ideals of “right to speedy trial” that was enshrined in Article 21 of the Indian Constitution in the landmark judgement of Hussainara Khatoon & Ors vs Home Secretary, State Of Bihar.

Justice delayed is justice denied:

The issue of everlasting pendency of cases has beleaguered the Indian common man since time immemorial. There are about 43 lakh cases that are pending in the High Courts. Taking into notice these gargantuan numbers, Justice Ranjan Gogoi took the initiative to reach out to the Prime Minister of India, asking him to increase the number of judges at the High Court level. 

Additionally, he also pleaded for the increase of the retirement of High Court judges from 62 years to 65 years. He repeatedly exclaimed that the reason behind the pendency was the dearth of efficient judges. It is interesting to note that even the Law Commission of India, in the year 1987, proposed an increase in the number of judges at the High Court level.

The paucity of qualified judges at the Sessions Court level has also been viewed as a major setback, further leading to the never-ending piling up of cases. Another major factor contributing to the pendency in cases is the lack of sufficiently qualified judges at all judicial levels – an efficient judge could produce a sound judgement and prevent the need to have multiple hearings for a single case, thereby saving the court’s precious time.

It could be observed that lawyers also add to the delay in obtaining justice by unnecessarily demanding for adjournments, which delays the due course of justice, thereby leading to miscarriage of justice. Additionally, it is also observed that lawyers go on endless discourses, further stymieing the proceedings.

Yet another predicament arises when each law is faced with innumerable changes. That is, these countless amendments pave the way for a storm of confusion, further stifling the court’s pursuits. Moreover, it has been observed that the judicial realm lacks a meticulous work environment. To elaborate, it could be discerned that the number of public holidays that forestall the courts’ proceedings is unprecedented.

Allocation of funds by the government to the judiciary is also very low, hence preventing the courts from enlarging their pool of resources that could be essential in carrying out the courts’ proceedings. It is interesting to note that even growing literacy rates and an increased sense of legal awareness among the masses have also been viewed as a contributing factor to the ever-increasing pile of cases.

It is further observed that the process of lengthy and verbose judgement writing slows down the speed of the trials. Additionally, lack of meticulous and organised classification of cases adds to the lengthening of the proceedings, thereby delaying justice from being served. Moreover, one governmental department suing another governmental department also further aggravates and aggrandises the matter of contention.

Speedy justice:

In the year 2019, Smriti Irani, the Union Minister of Women and Child Development suggested the setting up of 1023 Fast Track Courts to settle the unresolved cases that had been filed under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act. The central goal of these Fast Track Courts is to resolve the increasing pile of pending cases in a shorter duration of time.

Consequently, these courts have proved to be beneficial and efficient in disposing of cases pertaining to child crimes. For instance, in Bihar, a particular Fast Track Court had resolved a rape case within a span of six days, imposing the death sentence on a 25-year-old man accused of raping his three-and-a-half-year-old niece. These courts could also prove to be beneficial in keeping up with the newer breeds of crimes that keep arising.

The aim is also to reduce the number of under-trials. India is found to have the 3rd largest number of under-trials in Asia. Fast Track Courts have successfully resolved millions of cases, further relieving the courts. It was further observed that these Fast Track Courts have enabled the furtherance of efficiency at the judicial levels. It is interesting to note that Fast Track Courts have the highest efficiency rates.

Problems:

Despite the major merits of this mechanism, one cannot overlook certain problems that crop up. For instance, ordinary courts spend copious amounts of time to examine even the most microscopic of details; on the other hand, in Fast Track Courts, cases are resolved without as much deliberation.

Hence, it is said that certain outcomes of these courts lead to a gross miscarriage of justice. Additionally, Fast Track Courts are haphazardly allocated with different types of cases in different states. Further, it has been observed that Fast Track Courts heavily depend on the creation of additional positions and little heed is paid to the ground-level problems; indiscriminately increasing the number of judges does not single-handedly solve the pendency of cases in the country.

Various Fast Track Courts do not have the required technological infrastructure and well-equipped staff to cope with the increasing number of cases. Another interesting concern pertains to the fact that the allocation of judges to the Fast Track Courts would indefinitely increase the workload of the judges at the other judicial levels.

Improving the mechanism:

Over the years, with the emergence of Fast Track Courts, it can be observed that these courts have increasingly been burdened with too many cases. As a direct consequence, these courts have been a witness to dwindling rates of productivity.

Thus, concrete steps must be taken to ensure enhanced organisation and proper allocation of cases. The lack of infrastructure is a huge problem that these courts are plagued with. Therefore, allocation of resources must be done in a just and equitable manner to ensure that justice is served accurately.

Additionally, instead of just appointing ad-hoc judges to the Fast Track Courts, permanent appointments must be made so that there is a fixed establishment. Furthermore, there is a lack of accountability in this structure. That is, these courts are appointed for a very short durations of time, which instils a sense of angst among the complainants.

The ad-hoc judges, so appointed to these courts, are seen to have disposed cases at a mind-boggling rate. However, during their actual careers, they were cautious while dispensing their duties, owing to the burden of disciplinary actions.

However, in the Fast Track Courts arena, these judges are not subjected to the onus of disciplinary proceedings, which gives them unbridled leeway. This lack of accountability could prove to be detrimental to the ideals of Fast Track Courts. To abate this situation, strict guidelines must be followed to ensure that instances of malfeasance are nipped at the bud.

Conclusion:

Fast Track Courts have proved to be a substitute to the judicial spheres, which seek to assuage the plight of the victims and give them light in the form of justice. Even though these courts have proved to be beneficial in achieving these ideals, they have also proved to be too hasty, leading to callous inaccuracies, which could have been avoided with more astute scrutiny of details pertaining to the cases. The rectification of the various flaws in this system might help catapult this institution to another level.

Author: Vaishnavi Kokonda from NALSAR University of Law, Hyderabad.

Editor: Ismat Hena from Faculty of Law, Jamia Millia Islamia.

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