This article is written by Rishabh Gupta, a student from ICFAI Law School. In this article, the author explains what Fast track courts are and do they expedite the conviction process or not. In this article, he has tried to analyze the concoction of events that have led to the emergence of Fast Track Courts.
As soon as any sensitive or contentious case comes in the limelight, there is a ubiquitous demand for taking up the case in a fast track court. Though there is no explicit definition of Fast Track Courts yet they are characterized by certain features. The clamor for FTCs is based on the conjecture that fast tracks will expedite the process of conviction. ‘Fast Track Court’ by its very name paints a picture in the mind of people that it will be faster in its working compared to regular courts. In this paper, we have tried to analyze the concoction of events that have led to the emergence of Fast Track Courts.
According to the Cambridge dictionary, fast track means “using a quicker than a normal route to a higher position or level”. The interpretation of the Fast Track Court comes out to be a court that delivers judgment faster than a regular trial court. The first reference to the concept of the fast track can be found in the recommendation of the eleventh finance commission which recommended the creation of the 1,734 fast track courts for disposal of legion pending cases. (though they did not use the term fast track courts). The state governments were supposed to establish FTCs after consulting the high courts.
The scheme was recommended to have a time limit of 5 years. The State Governments received funds directly from the Ministry of Finance to establish Fast Track Courts (FTCs). The deadline was supposed to be 31st March 2005.The supreme court through its judgment in the case of Brij Mohan Lal v Union of India and Ors. ordered the government to not end the scheme abruptly.
The government extended the deadline from 31st March 2005 to 1st March 2010. The scheme of central assistance for Fast Track Courts was extended for one year i.e. up to 31.3.2011. It was decided that there will be no central funding for Fast Track Courts beyond 31-03-2011. But the states were given the freedom to decide whether they want to continue with the scheme or not. In 2012, after the ‘Nirbhaya’ rape case, the public demand for speedy trial rejuvenated the scheme.
As of 31st December 2018, there are 699 FTCs (Fast track courts) functional across the country which deals with cases related to women, children, senior citizens, etc.
The main objective of fast track court 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, FTCs 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 hearing due to delay in 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. The distinctive features of the FTCs have failed to achieve its very objective.
According to the report of 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 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. On 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.
Justice H Suresh, a retired Bombay High court Judge said: “the meaning of Fast Track Courts is vague.” It implies the case will only be taken up early. Other than that, the procedure is the same, laws applied are the same and time taken for cross-examination is the same. The court is expected to hear such cases one after the other and no other cases.” Further, the respected judge has pointed out that the trial of the December 2012 Delhi gang-rape case was under trial for 9 months in the FTC.
The courts though called fast track to follow the same procedure and face the same problems as that of a trial court such as delay in examination of witnesses due to non-arrival on time, absence of lawyer on hearing dates and the lack of power on judges’ part to discipline them.
Criminal Lawyer Abhinav Sekhri said, “One major reason for that is that in all of these cases recording of evidence takes a lot of time because witnesses don’t appear or recording of evidence itself continues on more than one date or lawyers end up taking adjournments.”
Though the government has with time increased the number of courts and the funds sanctioned for their functioning. However, there are faults in the very system of working of courts in the country which the government has failed to address. No system defines the cases that are to be allocated to the FTCs, for example, some states allocated sexual offenses and rape cases whereas other states allocate other cases as well. Thereby increasing the burden on FTCs.
The original concept of FTC included the hiring of judges, better infrastructure providing courtroom, libraries and technological facilities, which they do not seem to have achieved. They have no choice but to survive with the existing facilities. Again, due to lack of defined technological assistance that should be provided to an FTC its objective of speedy trial seems a farfetched dream. In some FTCs the absence of regular staff just adds to this problem.
There is an exigent need for a succinct definition of FTC which assign a proper meaning to the term and the state need to stop overburdening FTCs with a deluge of cases. A certain level of technological and infrastructural advancements is essential to accord a court the status of FTC. There is a need for specially trained staff in these courts and not temporary staff.
The findings of the NCRB report and observations by legal experts reflect nothing else but the reality of the deaccelerated proceedings of the Fast Track Courts. The speedy disposal of cases depends less on its title but more on how the proceedings are conducted. Thus, we can conclude, when a system chooses to work properly it does not matter whether it works under the title of Fast Track Court or not, it can deliver timely judgements.
As far as the Fast Track Courts are concerned, though they are called ‘fast’ but are proving to be slower than other courts in some instances. Till date, there is no succinct definition of Fast Track Court, which is a matter of exigent concern. Further, a definite standard of technology is also required. It is high time the problems that lie on the very roots of the judiciary system are addressed by the legislature.
LawSikho has created a telegram group for exchanging legal knowledge, referrals and various opportunities. You can click on this link and join: