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What are Fast Track Courts?

हिंदी में पढ़ें
August 14, 2022
By Advocate Chikirsha Mohanty



The right to a speedy trial is the essence of criminal justice and there is no doubt that justice delayed is justice denied. In the United States, a speedy trial is one of the constitutionally assured rights. European Convention on Human Rights also provides that everyone arrested or detained shall be entitled to trial within a reasonable time or to release pending trial. Though the right to a speedy trial is not specifically enumerated as a fundamental right in the Constitution of India, it is implicit in the broad sweep of Article 21. Article 21 confers a fundamental right for every person not to be deprived of his life or liberty except in accordance with the procedure established by law.

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Moreover, the procedure should be reasonable, fair, and just. Although the procedure cannot be fair unless it ensures a speedy trial for the determination of the guilt of the accused. There can be, hence, no doubt that a speedy trial is an integral and essential part of the fundamental right to life and liberty enshrined in Article 21.



What are Fast Track Courts and why do We Need Them?

Though the current system on the academic plane provides this fundamental right it faces a crucial crisis due to notorious delays. The backlog of about 2 crore cases in the lower courts and 35 lakh in High Courts are the most sneering evidence of the inadequacy of the system. The inordinate delay in the disposal of court cases induces the public to hunt for justice through extra-judicial means. Two-thirds of all the cases pending in lower courts are criminal, where 94 percent of the accused go scot-free. To put it differently, the conviction rate is as low as 6 percent. This raises the question about the efficiency as well as the credibility of the criminal justice system.

To expedite the disposal of mounting arrears of cases diverse measures are being taken. These include plugging up the vacancies of judges, appraisal of the working days and annual vacations in High Courts, District and Subordinate Courts, and rationalization of rules and procedure, etc. Above and beyond, on the recommendations of the 11th Finance Commission, the Central Government has decided to establish 1734 Fast Track Courts, especially for clearance of lingering cases in district and subordinate Courts and cases involving undertrials in jails. Under Article 275 of the Constitution Rs.502.90 crores have been allocated to the States to establish such Courts in consultation with the respective High Courts.



What is the Objective of Fast Track Court?

The main objective of fast-track courts is to expedite the process of conviction, reduce the burden on regular courts and decrease the backlog of cases. There are certain distinct features of a fast-track court when compared to a regular trial court.

  • A fast-track court is given a target number of cases to dispose of at a definite time.

  • Ideally, Fast Track Courts are expected to examine all the witnesses in a single trial.

  • The courts are expected to deal with a specific category of cases.

  • FTCs are most strict in their business and don’t adjourn hearings due to delays in the preparation of certain documents such as summons, warrants, etc.

These features are supposed to make trials in these courts speedier when compared to a regular court.



Advantages of Fast Track Courts

Fast-track courts have numerous advantages which we will discuss in the following points.

1. De-clog the judicial system
The fast-track courts, at least in theory, can assist in declogging the Indian judicial system. India’s judiciary is notorious for being slow to dispose of cases, with hundreds of thousands of cases still pending—some dating back centuries.

Fast-track courts, notably, were initially established to quickly dispose of cases such as those. Looking at the success of the courts in fulfilling their objective, the Supreme Court decreed they be continued on.

2. Deliver justice for undertrials
Undertrials—people who are arrested or detained and awaiting their trial to begin—in India can often spend years before they get their day in court. The fast-track courts expedite that process and deliver trial dates to undertrials more quickly. As the age-old adage goes: “Justice delayed is justice denied.”

Apart from delivering justice for undertrials, FTSCs consequently help in lowering the incarcerated population as, inevitably, many of the undertrials may not be guilty of the charges leveled against them. Thus, the FTSCs fulfill both a moral and a practical purpose.

3. Deliver justice for victims
Most important, the fast-track special courts help in delivering justice and bringing closure to victims and victims’ families. In India, even with cases of sex crimes, cases can often take years, with victims constantly having to deal with the fear of their abuser eventually being acquitted. The fast-track courts help resolve that dilemma.

Even with non-sexual assault cases, such as cases of financial fraud, etc, these courts can finally deliver justice in a case and bring an end to decades of fruitless litigation.

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Why are the Fast Track Courts Failing?

According to the report of the National Crime Records Bureau released in January 2020 the Indian FTCs completed trials of 28,000 cases out of which only 22% of the cases took less than a year to complete which was the lowest among the kinds of courts (SC/ST Court, District/Session Judge, POCSO Court, etc.) for which the data was given. Further 42% of the trials in FTCs took more than 3 years to complete while 17% took more than 5 years to complete. In comparison with the data of 2017’s report showed that trials completed in 2018 were slower.

These data show that the condition of FTCs akin to other courts if not worse. The report also shows that the pace of trials varied from state to state among which Jharkhand was the speediest whereas the highest number of trials were completed by Uttar Pradesh.
Though intended to serve a positive role, fast-track courts also suffer from a few weaknesses as discussed in the subsequent points.

1. Logistical issues
Fast-track courts in India suffer from numerous logistical issues. A survey by a national law school identified gaps in technology that prevented the courts from hearing from victims. It also reported shortages of staff and judges that pose a serious threat to the primary objective of FTCs: quick disposal of cases. Samples from forensic labs are also reportedly delayed.

These logistical issues often delay the FTCs, especially in rural areas, and these courts end up taking a longer time than necessary to dispose of cases.

2. Problems of prioritization
Another flaw with FTCs is deciding which cases to prioritize—and consequently, assign for fast-tracking. This requires difficult decisions and, oftentimes, the answers are based on political machinations and emotions.

For example, after the Nirbhaya case, public opinion swung heavily towards assigning cases like that to fast-track courts. However, some argue that whilst rape and sexual assault are indeed barbarous, why should the state choose those crimes instead of, say, murder? Thus, this debate raises contentious points that prove difficult to fully answer.

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3. Justice cannot be rushed
Whilst the motto “Justice delayed is justice denied” holds true in many ways, courts also cannot afford to rush through a decision that can have disastrous ramifications if incorrect. In cases of rape, especially, if a Fast Track court reaches a faulty decision, the consequence could be a man’s life. With the overwhelming time pressure and media focus on high-profile fast-tracked cases, judges could feel the pressure to ignore certain contentious points in a bid to hasten the process. This, in the legal field, has to be avoided.

As discussed above, Fast Track courts can be beneficial on many levels. They help deliver justice, reduce the imprisoned population, and, possibly, help bring closure to victims and their families. However, these courts also have several immanent lacunae that must be addressed for them to be functioning as per their legislative intent. Given the high stakes involved in these courts, there certainly can be little room for failure.



 

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