Strengthening the Indian Judiciary and Fast Track Courts

The Ministry for Women and Child Development has proposed to set up 1,023 fast-track courts to clear the cases under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act. Few weeks before even the Supreme Court had issued directions, stating that districts with more than 100 cases pending under the POCSO Act need to set up special courts that can deal specifically with these cases.

Are Fast Track Courts Panacea?

  • Often increasing the number of courts is a go-to recourse in dealing with the mounting backlog in India.
  • While large sums of money and attention are being devoted to creating additional posts, little is being done to identify and address the prevalent systemic issues.
  • Failure to fully optimize the current mechanisms and resolving the problems, sanctioning more judges may not provide the intended results.

Fast Track Courts

  • Fast-track courts (FTCs) were first established in the year 2000.
  • As per the data from the Ministry of Law and Justice, at the end of March, there were about 581 FTCs operational in the country, with approximately 5.9 lakh pending cases.
  • The state of Uttar Pradesh had the most number of pending cases.
  • About 56% of the States and Union Territories, including Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat, had no FTCs.
  • In terms of money about Rs 870 crore was released by the Centre between 2000-2001 and 2010-2011 towards these FTCs.
Survey on Fast Track Courts

In a survey of FTCs conducted by National Law University Delhi, it was observed that:

  • There was a huge variation in the kinds of cases handled by FTCs across States, with certain States primarily allocating rape and sexual offence cases to them and other States allocating various other matters.
  • Several FTCs lacked technological resources to conduct audio and video recordings of the victims and many of them did not have regular staff.

As the Centre is promising to set up FTCs across the country, the question which needs to be answered is: will a mere increase in the number of judges lead to a direct reduction in pendency of cases?

The data collated from the Supreme Court’s ‘Court News’ between 2010 and 2017 shows otherwise. For example, in Karnataka, the number of working judges increased between 2012 and 2017 (with occasional dips in certain years) but pendency did not reduce.

Similarly, in other States, such as Maharashtra, Kerala, Delhi and West Bengal, increase or decrease in the number of judges did not affect the pendency of cases.

Need to address Systematic Issues

Hence the number of judges or fast track courts by themselves will not aid in addressing the pendency of cases. There is a need to address systematic issues of which some of them are highlighted below:

  • Inadequate staff and IT infrastructure, delay in getting reports from the understaffed forensic science laboratories, frivolous adjournments and over-listing of cases need to be addressed on priority.
  • There is a huge backlog of vacancies in the lower and subordinate judiciary. It has to be seen whether States will hire additional judges or appoint FTCs from the current pool of judges because, in the case of commercial courts, several States designate special judges from the current pool of judges. If it repeats for the proposed FTCs, it could prove to be problematic as it would increase substantially the workload of the remaining judges.

Involving States

For the FTCs to become successful, States must take stock of the issues at the ground level. States must engage with the principal and senior district judges to get stock of issues the courts are facing in various districts and due attention must be given to both the metropolitan and far-flung non-metropolitan areas.

To ensure that the overall system works productively, it is important to ensure that its various components work efficiently and without any hindrance.

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