Recently, Delhi witnessed large scale protests by various groups demanding stricter punishment and speedier trial in cases of sexual assault against women. In light of the protests, the central government has constituted a Commission (headed by Justice Verma) to suggest possible amendments in the criminal law to ensure speedier disposal of cases relating to sexual assault. Though the Supreme Court, in 1986, had recognised speedy trial to be a fundamental right, India continues to have a high number of pending cases.
In 2012, the net pendency in High Courts and subordinate courts decreased by over 6 lakh cases. However, there is still a substantial backlog of cases across various courts in the country. As per the latest information given by the Ministry of Law and Justice, there are 43.2 lakh cases pending in the High Courts and 2.69 crore cases pending in the district courts.
After the recent gang-rape of a 23 year old girl, the Delhi High Court directed the state government to establish five Fast Track Courts (FTCs) for the expeditious adjudication of cases relating to sexual assault. According to a news report, other states such as Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu have also begun the process of establishing FTCs for rape cases. In this blog, we look at the status of pending cases in various courts in the country, the number of vacancies of judges and the status of FTCs in the country.
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. As of December 1, 2012, the working strength of the High Court judges was 613 as against the sanctioned strength of 895 judges. This reflects a 32% vacancy of judges across various High Courts in the country. The highest number of vacancies is in the Allahabad High Court with a working strength of 86 judges against the sanctioned strength of 160 judges (i.e. vacancy of 74 judges). The situation is not much better at the subordinate level. As on September 30, 2011, the sanctioned strength of judges at the subordinate level was 18,123 judges as against a working strength of 14,287 judges (i.e. 21% vacancy). The highest vacancy is in Gujarat with 794 vacancies of judges, followed by Bihar with 690 vacancies.
Fast Track Courts
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. In this regard, the Commission had allocated Rs 500 crore. FTCs were to be established by the state governments in consultation with the respective High Courts. An average of five FTCs were 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. There are primarily three sources of recruitment. First, by promoting members from amongst the eligible judicial officers; second, by appointing retired High Court judges and third, from amongst members of the Bar of the respective state.
FTCs were initially established for a period of five years (2000-2005). However, in 2005, the Supreme Court directed the central government to continue with the FTC scheme, which was extended until 2010-2011. The government discontinued the FTC scheme in March 2011. Though the central government stopped giving financial assistance to the states for establishing FTCs, the state governments could establish FTCs from their own funds. The decision of the central government not to finance the FTCs beyond 2011 was challenged in the Supreme Court. In 2012, the Court upheld the decision of the central government. It held that the state governments have the liberty to decide whether they want to continue with the scheme or not. However, if they decide to continue then the FTCs have to be made a permanent feature.
As of September 3, 2012, some states such as Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Kerala decided to continue with the FTC scheme. However, some states such as Haryana and Chhattisgarh decided to discontinue it. Other states such as Delhi and Karnataka have decided to continue the FTC scheme only till 2013.
Table 1: Number of Fast Track Courts and the pending cases in FTCs (As on March 31, 2011)
||No of FTC
||No of cases transferred until March 31, 2011
Sources: Lok Sabha Unstarred Question No.498, March 3, 2012; PRS
. Rajya Sabha Starred Question no 231 dated December 10, 2012.
. Brij Mohan Lal v Union of India (2005) 3 SCR 103.
. Brij Mohan Lal v Union of India (2012) 6 SCC 502.
. Rajya Sabha Unstarred Question no 2388 dated September 3, 2012.