Context: Fast track courts and the issues with these courts.
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- 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.
- The Supreme Court in a suo motu petition 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.
Fast Track Courts: Fast track courts (FTCs) are special courts for speedy trials. Fast track courts deal with speedy disposal or solution of cases to make the judiciary more effective and to avail justice as fast as possible.
The history of fast track courts in the country extends way back to 2001, when the then federal government decided to set up these fast track courts to address and tackle the backlog of pending cases in the district courts, session courts and other subordinate courts. Setting up of subordinate courts such as the fast track courts falls under the jurisdiction of the State Government, who in consultation with the High Court sets up such subordinates.
Pendency of cases in India:
- According to the latest ‘National Judicial Data Grid statistics’, as of April 2018, there are over three crore cases pending across the Supreme Court, the High Courts, and the subordinate courts.
- The subordinate courts account for over 86% pendency of cases, followed by 13.8% pendency before the 24 High Courts. The remaining 0.2% of cases are pending with the Supreme Court.
- According to a recently released report by the Ministry of Law and Justice, Department of Justice in June 2019, there were 581 FTCs operational in the country, with approximately 5.9 lakh pending cases, Uttar Pradesh having the most number of cases.
Fast track Courts in India:
- The 11th Finance Commission had recommended a scheme for the establishment of 1734 FTCs for the expeditious disposal of cases pending in the lower courts.
- FTCs were to be established by the state governments in consultation with the respective High Courts.
- An average of five FTCs was to be established in each district of the country.
- The judges for these FTCs were appointed on an adhoc basis.
- The judges were selected by the High Courts of the respective states.
Issues affecting the functioning of Fast track courts: There are several factors that have an impact on disposal of cases. Inadequate staff and IT infrastructure, delay in getting reports from the understaffed forensic science laboratories, frivolous adjournments and over-listing of cases in the cause list are some of the variables.
- Vacancies in the High Courts and the Subordinate Courts: One of the reasons for the long delay in the disposal of cases is the high number of vacancies in position for judges in the High Courts and the District Courts of the country. The court has put the actual figure at 5,133 out 22,036 sanctioned posts. There are more than 5,000 vacancies in the subordinate courts. The State-wise figures are quite alarming, with Uttar Pradesh having a vacancy of 42.18% and Bihar 37.23%. Among the smaller States, Meghalaya has a vacancy level of 59.79%.
- Judges to population ratio: India has 19 judges per 10 lakh people on an average, according to a Law Ministry data which also states that the judiciary faces a combined shortage of over 6,000 judges, including over 5,000 in the lower courts itself.
- Absence of complete and scientific approach to data collection.
- There is no exceptional methodology set out for the working of these courts to be pursued to guarantee a speedy trial.
- FTC staffs are not given training exclusive to cases and offenses that they will handle while working in such courts.
- Shortage of funds: There is additionally an absence of enough funds being given to FTCs to choose and appoint adequate staff and to have advanced infrastructure like computer systems, sound video recording arrangements, cooling equipment such as air conditioners etc.
Addressing the systematic issues:
- Increasing the number of judges: Law Commission in 1987 had recommended that India should raise the number of judges to 50 for every million population.
- Filling up of the vacancies: the administrative hurdles and the unwillingness of the state governments is the cause of increase in vacancies. The respective state governments must work towards reducing the vacancies.
- Rationalisation of judicial structures: Fast-track courts and special courts are administered under different judicial bodies, with little coordination or uniformity among them. Therefore, a lead agency to be established by Central and State Governments to review the functioning of courts in a systematic and streamlined manner.
- Capacity building and improving infrastructure: The training of staff as per the demand of FTC is need of the hour. The FTCs must be provided with the adequate infrastructure to provide justice in a fair way and reduce the pendency of cases.
- A holistic approach of fast tracking the investigation to complement the Fast track courts (FTCs) and providing a special procedure different from the procedure followed in the regular courts is required.
Conclusion: Increasing the number of courts as a recourse to deal with the mounting backlog has been a common practice. However, 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. Without fully optimising the current mechanisms and resolving the problems, sanctioning more judges may not provide the intended results.Critical issues such as inadequate court staff, improper physical and IT infrastructure and understaffed forensic labs, which affect the day-to-day functioning of the FTCs, must be comprehensively addressed. For the overall system to work productively, it is important to ensure that its various components work efficiently and without any hindrance.