The public outrage following recent incidents of sexual violence against women and children in Bangalore has intensified the search for law and policy measures to prevent such incidents and secure justice for the survivors. Fast-track courts have been proposed as a policy measure for securing speedy justice in cases of sexual violence against women and children.
Fast-track courts were first mooted by the Central Government under a scheme that sought to establish 1,793 FTCs for different offences across the States from 2001 onwards. As on March 31, 2011, there were 1,192 FTCs were functioning across the country. Despite functioning for 10 years, there was no published comprehensive review of the functioning or performance of these courts.
The gruesome gang rape in Delhi in December 2012 re-ignited popular demands for fast-track courts to be established to conduct speedy trials in cases of sexual violence against women and on August 13, 2013, the Government of Karnataka passed an order (G.O. No.74 LCE 2013, dated 13.08. 2013) directing 10 fast track courts to be set up in Karnataka solely to try cases of rape and sexual assault against women. CLPR conducted a detailed study of the setup and working of these fast track courts and our preliminary findings are as follows:
- Out of the 10 Fast track courts to be set up in Karnataka, 3 were to be established in Bangalore. Presently, however, there are only 2 special courts set up as fast-track courts for women in Bangalore, instead of 3.
- Secondly, there were no special procedures set out for the functioning of these courts to be followed to ensure a speedy trial. Generally, shorter adjournments would be given, but there was no requirement either to ensure that cases are completed within a certain time frame such as 6 months or 12 months nor was there any requirement that a fixed number of cases should be disposed every month, as was the original conception of fast-track courts. No special procedure / periodic quota for disposal of cases has been set out, thus making our special courts indistinguishable from regular courts.
- Thirdly, the manner in which fast-track courts are functioning in Karnataka reveals that while they are intended only to try cases of sexual assault, in reality, all kinds of cases of crimes against women are sent to these courts, including dowry, domestic violence, and other crimes. This would dilute the efficacy of the courts if their original intent was to only focus on rape and sexual assault and to dispose of these cases faster.
- Finally, the judges and prosecutors received no special training to deal with sexual assault trials, handling of victims or witness’ evidence. Despite the recommendation of the 2013 Justice Verma Committee Report on Amendments to Criminal Law, for judges to receive training in gender sensitivity, the judges at the special courts have not been provided with any special training to deal with crimes of sexual violence against women.
- Statistics: The total number of cases that have come before these fast track courts from the date of their designation is 182. Out of these 182 cases, 88 cases were transferred to a special court for trying offences against children. Thus there were only 94 cases that came before these 2 fast track courts. Out of these, a total of only 12 cases have been disposed of. Out of the disposed of cases, 11 resulted in acquittals and there was only one case which resulted in a conviction. This by no means would give people the confidence that such courts would achieve speedy disposal of cases or any progress towards increasing conviction rates.
These preliminary findings of our study indicate that instituting fast-track courts in Karnataka is not in any way faster or better at achieving justice for women than regular courts. They do not adopt any special procedure or pay any special attention to the subject dealt with in these courts. The idea that fast-track courts for dealing with sexual offences and rape would be faster and better at dealing with such crimes does not hold good if we look even at the data that we have received for the last one year. With only 12 cases being disposed of, resulting in 11 acquittals and only a single conviction, these courts are proving to be neither fast nor effective.