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Status of India’s Fast Track Courts

  • Category
    Polity & Governance
  • Published
    20th Aug, 2019

Minister for Women and Child Development, informed the Rajya Sabha that the government has proposed to set up 1,023 fast-track courts to clear the cases under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act.

Issue

Context

Minister for Women and Child Development, informed the Rajya Sabha that the government has proposed to set up 1,023 fast-track courts to clear the cases under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act.

Background

  • As per the National Judicial Data Grid, more than 3 crore civil and criminal cases are pending (as of Feb 2019) in the lower courts across the country. This is because of several factors like low per capita number of judges, lack of basic infrastructure for judges, complex appeal mechanism etc. This delayed delivery of justice, especially in sexual assault cases leads to frequent large scale protests, by various groups demanding stricter punishment and speedier trial in such cases.
  • In this backdrop, the Fast Track Courts (FTCs) were established in Indian in the year 2000 with an aim to clear the long pending Sessions and other lower judicial cases.
  • A total of 1734 FTCs were approved in 2000 following the report of the 11th Finance Commission. Out of this, only 1562 were functional by 2005. The central government in 2005, decided to continue its support for the 1562 functional FTCs for the next 6 years (till 2011). By the end of 2011, only 1192 FTCs were functional.
  • Then, the central government constituted Justice Verma Commission in 2012 to suggest possible amendments in the criminal law to ensure speedier disposal of cases relating to sexual assault.
  • Finally, after the Nirbhaya Case , the Delhi High Court directed the state government to establish five more Fast Track Courts (FTCs) for the expeditious adjudication of cases relating to sexual assault.
  • According to a recently released report by the Ministry of Law and Justice in June 2019, currently, there are 581 fast track courts in the country that are functional.

Issues Faced by FTCs

  • Non-Uniformity in Type of Cases: In a survey of FTCs conducted by National Law University Delhi, it was observed that there is a huge variation in the kinds of cases handled by these courts across States, with certain States primarily allocating rape and sexual offence cases to them and other States allocating various other matters.
  • Infrastructural Issues: Most FTCs were not set up with different infrastructure or facilities, but were often housed in an existing court. Moreover, several States appoint FTCs special judges from the current pool of judges. This substantially increases the workload of the remaining judges.
  • Technological Barrier: Several FTCs lacked technological resources to conduct audio and video recordings of the victims and many of them did not have regular staff.
  • Adhocism: Setting up of FTCs was not based on actual problems of pendency, but was often in response to specific incidents such as securities scams, rape cases and sexual harassment of children.
  • Lack of Coordination: In India, tribunals are managed by different ministries, and fast-track courts and special courts are administered under different judicial bodies, with little coordination or uniformity among them.
  • Other Issues: There are delays in getting reports from the understaffed forensic science laboratories, judges make frivolous adjournments and inadequate staff adversely affect the efficiency of the fast track courts.

Recent Developments to address the issues faced by Judiciary

  • All India Judicial Services – The government has officially initiated the setting up of All India Judicial Services which will bring much more professional judicial officers and it will help in reducing the deficiency of number of judges in Indian Courts.
  • NALSA - Financial Assistance provided by the government to NALSA has been increased by 165%. Also, the disposal of cases in Lok Adalats have seen an increase of 670% in 2017-18 from 2013-14.
  • Increase in Strength of Judges - Ministry of Law & Justice has increased the sanctioned strength of judges in High Courts from 906 in 2014 to 1079 in 2018.
  • Nyaya Vikas Mobile App and Web Portal – This initiative is aimed for strengthening of infrastructure facilities in Judiciary. This app helps in monitoring the ongoing infrastructure projects. The mobile application allows the surveyor at the ground level to capture images and enter details of the project which can be later reviewed by the moderator.
  • e-Courts Project – Through this project, case information is available to litigants, advocates and judges through web and email. Also, a Justice Clock setup on top performing district courts provides information about other schemes to the public.
  • Tele Law Services – This portal helps in mainstreaming Legal Aid to the Marginalised Sections of the society.
  • Alternative Dispute Redressal Mechanism – Amendment to The Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996 by the Arbitration and Conciliation (Amendment) Act 2015 to expedite the speedy resolution of disputes by prescribing timelines.
  • Rationalization of Tribunals – 36 identified Tribunals have been rationalized to 18.
  • Improving Litigation – Litigant Legal Information Management & Briefing System (LIMBS ) is web portal on which, the Government uploads the details of cases which are pending in various courts and the status of these cases. This helps in effective monitoring of court cases.

Way Forward

  • States will need to identify systemic issues and address the concerns for timely disposal of cases
  • States need to engage with the principal and senior district judges to get a sense of issues the courts are facing in various districts.
  • Equal attention must be paid to both the metropolitan and far-flung non-metropolitan areas.
  • In United Kingdom and Canada, one agency is responsible for the administration of various judicial bodies, including tribunals. This ensures that different judicial authorities can be monitored centrally. Conclusion

Conclusion

For the overall system to work productively, it is important to ensure that its various components work efficiently and without any hindrance. The time is ripe for a lead agency to be established by Central and State Governments to review the functioning of courts, gauge the need for improvements, and allocate adequate resources for their functioning in a systematic and streamlined manner.

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