CREDIBILITY OF FAST TRACK COURTS IN ENSURING HUMAN RIGHTS
Right to speedy Justice is a step ahead to ensure justice to the deserved, thus ensuring Human rights of an Individual. While the legal frame-workers are busy strengthening the fundamental rights, it is pertinent to ensure speedy Justice, as the delayed Justice is a virtual violation of the Human rights. To solve this dilemma, Fast track courts are established to strengthen speedy trial and disposal of cases within a short time. The question of the credibility of these courts in ensuring human rights is still the question to be addressed and discussed. Through this article, the author analyses the efficiency of the Fast Track Courts, and how much it strengthens, or impact the human rights of every individual.
The Efficiency Of Fast Track Courts
The Fast track courts were established first in the 2000s, and its demand reached its Zenith after the Brutal Nirbhaya Gang rape, where the Fast track Courts had proved its worth. This Particular case was decided within nine months by a fast track court set up on January 2013, although these speedy remedies are rare.
The overall analysis of these Fast track Court’s performance is inexorable as it is pertinent to know whether the establishment of these courts would serve the objective of such establishment. Temporal arrangement of the judges was seen here. Re-employment of the retired judges for a limited period and transferring the judges from the lower courts are some of the measures taken with expectation of pragmatic decisions from the court. It overburdens the Judges and forces them to dispose of off the case without adequate studies, which sparks a chance of pronouncing undesirable Judgments. In this case, perhaps, the right to a speedy remedy might be endorsed, but not the right to proper Justice[i].
Apart from ensuring speedy justice, there are other pertinent rights of a person which must be taken into consideration. The inability of Fast track courts to hear matters expeditiously tampers with the right to hearing. The delay of next hearing for at least 3-4 months is an unusual gap of hearing, contributed to the factor of listing up 15-25 matters listed up for the hearing. Right to the speedy investigation is the other stagnating factor which questions the credibility of these fast track courts. In 2019, out of 20% of POCSO cases, the investigation procedure is lagging, not completing it within even one year.
Delaying of witness examinations is one of the factor noticed in the Fast Track Court Service.
Generally, it takes more than six months to examine the witness. It places a chance for the witness to turn hostile because of the threat or anticipation of any form, or bribing them by offering money for turning hostile. This violates the witness’ right to life and to live with dignity which is guaranteed under Part III of Indian Constitution[ii]. The witnesses here lack effective legal remedy and are deprived of suitable treatment. The United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (UNTOC) provides that States parties should take appropriate measures to protect witnesses in criminal proceedings related to crimes covered by the Convention and its Protocols. India ratified UNTOC in 2011, but it staggers behind in implementing a proper legislation for witness protection or to abide accurately by the regulations prescribed in UNTOC.
The justification offered for setting up 1,023 fast-track courts is that there are over 2.4 lakh cases pending related to rape and POCSO. This instance calls for the overall strengthening and reforming up the judicial system rather than trying to fix up the problems of pendency, merely by setting up the fast-track courts. We can see that the Fast-track court had stuck into the objective of achieving speedy justice, so there arises a probability of relatable skipping of the scope of fair and Timely Justice. It can be proved with these courts' approach to taking up the social sensational cases. These courts, of course in the Unnao and Hyderabad rape and Murder cases, had ensured the speedy justice, merely by enforcing the timelines set for the disposal of the case. In the wake of these instances, these courts ignore timely justice. The rush caused in these timelines would accidentally make them make irrational Judgment, which negates the fair justice of a person.
Impact Of Fast Track Courts On Human Rights
Despite many legal challenges such as credibility of appointment of judges in these courts as well as complicated and controversial funding strategies, the Indian Supreme Court upheld the constitutional mandate to achieve speedy justice because of the deplorable conditions of India's overcrowded prisons. This decision was dragged by the media which exposed the prison conditions and lengthy delays in criminal trials. This delay violates the prisoner’s constitutional right to speedy trial and justice.
Article 9(3) of ICCPR stresses on conducting the trial within the reasonable time. India, being the state party to the same is obliged to prevent unnecessary delays in Trials and thus abide by Article 9(3) of ICCPR. Delay in Trial is another aspect to be checked in order to assess the functioning of fast Track courts. Delay in trials unnecessarily confers the accused the right to apply for bail. This hampers the justice to the victim, Under sec. 482 read with 483, Cr. P.C[iii] lays that every possible measure to be taken to dispose of the case within 6 months from that day.
Best Bakery case[iv] is taken here as the best example of Fast track Court injustice. The National Human Rights Commission has filed a special leave petition in the Supreme Court against the verdict of the Fast track court of H.U. Mahida, acquitting all the 21 accused in this case, which involved the murder of 14 Muslims at Vadodara, in the year 2002. It was pointed out by the NHRC that there was a lack of effective cross-examination of the two of the accused, who had later contradicted their earlier written propositions. The NHRC also condemned the statement made by Judge Mahida on these trial courts, i.e they are not the court of Justice, but the Court of Evidence. The assumption that fast track courts do not have the power to go beyond the evidence, places the preference of evidence over justice. This view challenges the constitutional Human right to fair justice.
The specialization of India's fast-track courts by limiting their jurisdiction to crimes of sexual violence against women is new[v]. Concerning the sexual assault crimes, these fast track courts have however played an affirmative role in ensuring the speedy justice, exclusively punishing the perpetrators, thus restoring the public’s faith on justice.
Suggestions & Recommendations
The time limit specified by the fast track courts would force the judges to conclude the matter with irrational judgment, thus, ending up into the speedy but unfair justice.
In 2019, the Supreme Court, in a suo motu case [vi]directed that all such cases, especially related to POCSO, be sent to the FTCs. The committee also examined and found that till December 2019, 828 FTCs were functional in 17 states and Union territories, and sufficient funding is available for these courts. The Department of Ministry of law and Justice has drafted a scheme on setting up 1023 Fast Track Special Courts for expeditious disposal of cases of rape and POSCO Act. This scheme aims at effective implementation of Cr. Law Amendment Act, 2018 by ensuring targeted disposal of pending rape & POCSO Act cases by setting up Fast Track Special Courts (FTSCs) across the country. However, the basic problem lies in the procedural amendments, as the procedures for the ordinary courts and Fast Track Courts are same.
Legislations should be made to control and make specific methodologies for the procedure of various trials. The anomalies in the time limit prescribed in procedural code often clashes with the speedy procedures of fast track courts, which lead to further chaos in the judicial system and prompt the chances of delays. Also, Classifying the fast track courts according to the nature of the offences would ease up the fair disposal of cases. Judges' Appointment into these courts could be based on their rich experiences relating to the cases they decide. For example, a judge of prior experience in POCSO cases is transferable to the bench of fast track court dealing with sexual offences. The fast track courts should also be given equal gravity to speedy and fair justice, as both the parties suffer from the unreasonable delay of justice. Instead of focusing upon the evidential support, the court could make decisions which suit their conscience and thus favours the justice.
From the overall performance of the Fast Track courts, these courts have majorly proved to be effective in some cases but often falls into the pit of taking wrong decisions. It poses the question of concerns, where the guarantee to human rights is at stake. However, the Malimath committee was constituted by the Home Ministry to make a recommendation for reformation on the Criminal justice system, simplifying judicial procedures, practices and making the justice delivery to the common man closer. Hopefully, this provides us with the hope of efficient functioning of these courts in ensuring and strengthening the Human rights of a common man.
[i] Soni Mishra, Not So Fast, 38 THE WEEK 74 (2020). [ii] INDIAN CONST. part 3. [iii] Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 482. [iv] Zahira Habibulla H. Sheikh and Another v. State of Gujarat and Others, 2004 SOL Case No. 295. [v] Ratna Kapur, Normalizing Violence: Transitional Justice and the Gujarat Riots, 15 COLUM. J. GENDER & L. 885, 898 (2006). [vi] In: Re Alarming Rise in the Number of Reported Child Rape Incidents, Suo Motu Writ Petition (Criminal) No. 1/2019
This article has been written by Swathi Ashok Nair. Swathi is a fifth year law student at School of Legal Studies, Cochin University of Science and Technology, Ernakulam, Kerala.