“Justice delayed is Justice denied.”
The quote forms the basis for guaranteeing the right to a speedy trial as a fundamental right under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. As a result, to facilitate fair and fast justice as promised by Article 21, Special Fast Track Courts were set up across the country.
Fast Track Courts were first established in 2001 when the federal government decided to address the backlog of pending cases in District Courts, Session Courts, and Subordinate Courts. The 188th Law Commission Report of 2003 recommended establishing different fast-track courts to serve specific purposes. The demand for such special courts was reiterated in the Verma Committee Report of 2013, following the Nirbhaya case, with a focus on cases under POSCO.
The rationale behind setting up these Special Fast Track Courts was to expedite the justice process and facilitate the adjudication of sensitive cases within a framework of specific laws and specialized infrastructure tailored to the unique requirements of each case.
Efficiency of Fast Track Courts: Data
According to data from the Department of Justice, as of June 2023, there are 763 Fast Track Special Courts, including 412 exclusive POSCO Courts, operational in 29 States and Union Territories. However, the rate of pending cases in these courts has risen to 40% over the past three years. According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data for 2018, trials in these Fast Track Courts have shown significant delays, with 78% of cases taking more than a year, 42% taking more than 3 years, and 17% taking more than a decade to resolve, despite their mandate for case disposal within 1 year.
Reasons for the Slowdown of Fast-Track Courts
The reasons behind the inefficiency of these fast-track courts are multifaceted. Firstly, there is a significant amount of ambiguity in their establishment process. According to a study on the setup of special courts between 1950 and 2015, 28 laws provided for special courts, with 15 being established, 10 designated, and 3 implied for both. While setting up acts aligns with the rationale for creating Fast Track Courts, as they involve establishing new infrastructure and personnel, designated courts go against this rationale, as they only allocate additional cases to judges with regular workloads.
Secondly, in the process of appointing judges, judicial officers, retired high court judges, and members of the bar of the state are considered. However, these judges do not receive any special training for their appointments. In addition to this, delays in appointments and vacancies in the judiciary have been a persistent concern, with vacancy rates in lower courts reaching 23% as of 2022.
Regarding POSCO Courts, a slow process of investigation and delivery of evidence, along with forensic reports, and the filing of fake cases by parents of children involved in consensual acts, have contributed to increased case pendency.
Regional Disparities Highlight the Need for Improvement
A recent article in The Indian Express sheds light on stark regional variations in the performance of fast-track courts across India, particularly in terms of case disposal rates. These disparities are a matter of significant concern and demand immediate attention.
According to the data, Delhi has a mere 19% case disposal rate, while states like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar perform slightly better at 36% and 28%, respectively. Meghalaya and Jammu and Kashmir are not far ahead, with a disposal rate of 22%. In contrast, Mizoram leads with an impressive 66.5% disposal rate, closely followed by Kerala at 65%.
What is particularly intriguing is that these regional disparities persist despite uniform budgetary allocations to the states. Even more striking is the fact that states like Tamil Nadu, which face a greater caseload than Delhi, boast disposal rates three times higher.
The root causes of these discrepancies are multifaceted and stem from various factors, including the operational efficiency of the courts, the training and performance of judges, the state of infrastructure, a mismatch between the volume of cases and the number of judges available, and a lack of transparency in the establishment of such courts, coupled with the filing of fraudulent cases.
A constructive step toward addressing this issue is to conduct comprehensive research into the models of Kerala and Mizoram's Special Fast Track Courts, which have demonstrated success compared to their counterparts. These models can serve as valuable references for other states seeking to enhance their fast-track court systems.
It is crucial to recognize that the slowdown in fast-track courts across the country has detrimental effects on the accessibility and affordability of justice, undermining the very essence of a just society. It particularly places minority communities in a position of increased vulnerability, as they often rely heavily on the judicial system.
However, it is important to acknowledge the significant achievements of India's Fast Track Courts. Specifically, the Fast Track Special Courts established to handle cases under the POSCO Act have successfully disposed of 1.74 lakh cases related to rape and sexual offences. This notable progress has led to the extension of the Centrally Sponsored Scheme by the Ministry of Law and Justice for another three years, originally set to conclude on March 31, 2023.
As more Fast Track Courts are established nationwide to deliver free, fair, and expeditious justice, it is imperative that we recognize their potential while also addressing the existing gaps. The extension of the scheme offers an opportunity to rectify shortcomings in its implementation and enhance the efficiency of these courts.
Ultimately, the aspiration should be for India to evolve into a developed country where the need for such special courts diminishes, and justice is readily accessible to all without the need for additional schemes. This vision aligns with the ideals outlined in the Indian Preamble and serves as a goal worth pursuing as the nation progresses.
That said, one must always remember that the realisation of justice is truth’s act. As a wise man once said, “Justice is truth in action.”
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