Fast-track justice? The judiciary needs to do more

While fast-track courts like those now being established for sexual offences are a welcome initiative which will sooth the immediate wounds to some extent, the ultimate solution is improvement in infrastructure in government establishments responsible for administration of law and justice

Inaugurating the first of the five newly announced fast-track courts set up in Delhi to try cases related to sexual offences against women, Chief Justice of India Altamas Kabir, while appreciating the people’s anger, made the following observations clearly betraying his apprehensions about a possible hijacking of the due process of law:
 

“People’s reaction has been ‘do not send the accused to trial. Hand them over to us, we will deal with them or hang them’. But let us not get carried away. A swift trial should not be at the cost of a fair trial. …let us not lose sight of the fact that a person is presumed innocent until proven guilty… “It is welcome that the government has woken up to the need for courts which would try such cases on a priority basis. The perpetrators of such crimes should be brought to justice as quickly as possible.”
 

Justice Kabir also said that the gang-rape case could have been averted had the Supreme Court guidelines on tinted glasses in vehicles been strictly imposed.
 

 Law, by definition, happens to be “a rule or system of rules recognized by a country or community as governing the actions of its members”, while justice, simply put is “the administration of law in a fair and reasonable way”. In the ‘Facebook’ case, the apex court found it in order to take suo moto cognizance of the arrests and the court wondered why nobody had so far challenged the particular provision (contained in Section 66A) of the Information Technology Act. Such instances point to the catastrophic phase our country’s architecture responsible for dispensation of justice is going through.

 

In the absence of a will to administer law in a fair and reasonable way, guidelines from the government and rulings from courts will have limited potency. This ‘will’ should come as a credible message from the highest level. It will be next to impossible to make laws mischief-proof.

 

 We have a Constitution and a large-sized library of statutes which can protect almost every right a citizen could think of for a decent living. Any country should envy the tripod of legislature, executive and judiciary which was put in place to give effect to the rights, responsibilities and duties envisaged in the Indian Constitution by those who took charge of governance from the British. Though not as active as it is now, the fourth estate—the media—too has played its bit fairly well in bringing to the fore the commissions and omissions by people who have been running the government so far. Then, why results are not showing the way the framers of our Constitution visualized?

 

As for the hurdles faced by the different wings of the government machinery in reaching out to the people or solving problems, there is no dearth of deliberations in legislatures, reports of committees and commissions and research reports from academicians where remedies and measures for resolution of each and every problem can be found. Still, we are left with more and more unresolved issues as days pass. An age-wise analysis of the number of pending cases before the courts in India will put the country’s judicial system to shame.

 

While fast-track courts like those now being established for sexual offences are a welcome initiative which will sooth the immediate wounds to some extent, the ultimate solution is  improvement in infrastructure in government establishments responsible for administration of law and justice—this includes the police in uniform—and placing adequate manpower in place with the needed skill there and ensuring their reasonable ‘lifestyle’ needs,  so that the employees do not have to keep their lower drawers of the table open to maintain a lifestyle expected of the positions they hold. You will find secretaries in the government to the junior-most support staff in a village office compensating for the inadequately furnished, clumsy rooms without AC/fans in office going for posh, well-furnished houses with all facilities in good localities. Whether they manage it with salary or bribe, the cost is borne by the common man. Then, why not factor in a reasonably good lifestyle commensurate with the job expectations from them in their remuneration package and provide better infrastructure in their offices? In any case the debit is to taxpayer’s account. Then why not allow transparency? If this is done, they will do their job better.

 

Coming back to the mess in which our judicial system has landed itself as of now, something drastic has to be done and done quickly, if we have to avoid a breakdown. By breakdown I mean the loss of faith of the common man in the judiciary. You cannot always refer to three crores of cases pending in courts (someone disputing the number, saying that, if ‘current’ cases are excluded, the number will come down to one crore!) and project the requirement of thousands of additional courts or thirty years to clear the present arrears. They are all good for academic speeches at seminars. There is urgency to fast-track justice not only when sensational issues come up and media/ popular protests highlight them. The immediate measures could include:

 

  • Segregating cases which need to be decided within a year and taking them on a priority basis by the courts now in position.
     
  • Leaving the remaining cases to new Special Courts to be put in place at all levels depending on the number of pending cases.
     
  • Ensuring vacancies of judges are filled in time
  • Making it compulsory for government and public sector organizations to expedite procedures where they are on either side of matters before courts. This is necessary as there is laxity on their side as cost and delay seldom affects the individuals who handle cases in government and public sector. This position is slowly creeping into big corporates also.
     
  • Making necessary legislative changes to reduce procedural delays
  • Simultaneous efforts to encourage concerned parties to settle issues out of court. This method would bear fruit where party on one side of the dispute is government or quasi-government organizations.
     
  • Prioritize cases involving citizens in jails without trial, cases involving persons holding public office (including election petitions), cases involving bribery/ corruption/ evading tax or other dues to government where the amount involved is substantial and last but not least, the cases where the party on one side is a senior citizen or a woman with inadequate resources to fight a case in the court.

 

When Rahul Gandhi was implicated in a false case, Allahabad High Court slapped a fine of Rs50 lakh on petitioner in March last year... The Allahabad High court is known for its exemplary judgments. In Rahul Gandhi’s case, the court acted fast and awarded a model punishment for wrongly implicating a high-profile personality. This will definitely prevent future filing of frivolous petitions prompted by personal enmity for temporary gains. The court went a step further and ordered a CBI probe to bring out the motives behind the petition. One wishes the long arm of justice reaches out, and reaches out fast, to save thousands of low-profile citizens whose fates are tagged to cases pending in courts.

 

We find deterioration in respect for time-honored values and frequent flouting of established norms in every aspect of our public life and judiciary is no exception. What is nauseating is the shamelessness on the part of some people who decorate high judicial and quasi-judicial public offices in defending/ sheltering their near and dear who face charges of unworthy behavior. This tendency should not be encouraged. If there is a will, there would always be a way, to make an individuals behave and even the blanket protection to judges from criminal procedures should not stand in the way.

 

Unfortunately, what we find is, for selfish interests, less corrupt people protect the more corrupt in several walks of public life. This phenomenon is more dangerous and needs to be opposed. Some representatives of the authorities/ forums which are responsible to take cognizance and make amends are also found to be going for the softer option of defending individuals facing serious charges, depending on the ‘constituency interests’ they represent.

 

While there could be near unanimity on how to handle crimes like rape and murder, the options for those in judicial and quasi-judicial positions, destined as part of their job, to decide the fates of other less fortunate humans facing punishments for violating laws under compulsions of doing what they thought right, as part of their pursuit of causes they chose to serve humanity, are harder. This has also opened up debates about enforcement of law in letter and spirit and the social justice angle which is often ignored.

 

In many cases we observe that the law stands helpless in glaringly criminal offences including some mass murder cases. In the case of Dr Binayak Sen, who dared to take risks and provide medical aid in most trying and insecure circumstances, giving priority to humanitarian aspects, blurting out his disillusionment with the ‘establishment’ was initially, construed as sedition. While it may not be possible for courts to take different views on similar or identical pieces of evidence, it should not be impossible for higher levels of authority responsible to take a dispassionate view to prevent violation of social justice. Let us also not forget that thousands are remaining in jails and lock-ups without trial for years together, awaiting justice.

 

Other stories from MG Warrier.

 

(MG Warrier is a freelancer based in Thiruvananthapuram.)

Comments
Vaibhav Dhoka
1 decade ago
Fast track courts is good move but the problem is in How many areas of administration you will appoint Fast Track Courts.In fact FTC's is violation of Constitution as it discriminates one citizen from other seeking JUSTICE.Here also one should appoint Management gurus in management of judicial administration of justice is different from management of system.Otherwise courts will Lable it as encroachment on Judiciary.As it is well known that Delayed justice is Denied Justice.Timely administration will reduce backlog,Corruption in system and rise public faith in system.
M G WARRIER
Replied to Vaibhav Dhoka comment 1 decade ago
There are several related issues. I have tried to highlight some. In his article "Judiciary on a shoestring" (column "OUT OF COURT" in Business Standard today, February 6), M J Antony has written on budgetary constraints the judiciary faces.Let us make a beginning by talking about genuine constraints various arms of governance face in rising to the expectations of people.
M G WARRIER
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