Amid the clamour to establish fast-track courts for rape cases,the numbers tell a different story in Rajasthan,where such courts were first set up. While the conviction rate in rape cases has stayed the same and pendency has barely improved,authorities admit that due to hurried trials,a fair share of convictions are overturned in the high court.
All rape cases were transferred to fast-track courts in Rajasthan in 2005,following an alarming increase in cases,many involving foreign tourists. The figures available with Rajasthans courts show that the conviction rate in rape cases has remained the same around 25 per cent since 2000. While the conviction rate peaked in 2006 at 35.4 per cent,it recorded the lowest in a decade in 2011 when only 18.31 per cent of 1,800 cases ended in convictions.
Senior officials in the advocate generals (AG) office asserted that convictions from fast-track courts were regularly overturned in Rajasthans high court. In fast-track courts,the trial is sometimes hurried because of pressure from the government and media. We have seen cases where the trial was completed and an accused convicted within days or even weeks,but was later overturned by the high court, said a senior official. He added that prior to 2005,the rate of overturned convictions was far lower.
Convictions are being overruled in the high court,simply because the verdict could not withstand its scrutiny, said PUCL secretary Kavita Srivastava. She added that fast-track courts seem self-defeating at times.
Records available with the AGs office show that at least 1,000 rape cases are still pending in the Rajasthan high court some since 1985.
According to a trial court lawyer,who spoke on condition of anonymity,procedures in fast-track courts are not unlike regular trial courts. In fast-track courts,the hearing is done on a day-to-day basis,while in normal courts hearings can be slated days or weeks apart. However,adjournments in fast-track courts follow the same procedures, he said.
But Rajasthans woes in delivering justice do not rest with the judiciary alone. The National Crime Records Bureau figures show that the police withdraw at least 30 per cent of the cases registered under Section 376 of the IPC for rape. In 2011 alone,of the 1,800 FIRs registered under Section 376,the police declared 683 cases as false.
Pointing to another problem,a senior public prosecutor from Udaipur said: Since the fast-track courts began,the police have begun filing their chargesheets faster. In some cases they have filed chargesheets within 48 hours. Though speedy justice is important,the police investigation needs to be thorough as well.