Fast Track Courts in India – An Overview

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The government has recently proposed to set up 1,023 Fast-Track Courts (FTCs). This was with the backdrop of Supreme Court in a suo moto petition, issued directions to set up special courts.

The SC stated that the districts with more than 100 cases pending under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act must set up special courts to deal with these cases.

According to National Judicial Data Grid Statistics, there are about 3 crore cases pending in the SC, HCs and the subordinate courts across the country. Focusing on the FTCs to solve this issue is the need of the hour.

Since its establishment, these special courts have disposed of more than three million cases. However, FTCs is currently decreasing and its potential is not fully realized as it lacks basic infrastructure, technological resources, and manpower.

Fast track courts in India upsc

What is a fast-track court?

  • Fast-track courts (FTCs) are special courts that are established for the purpose of undertaking fast-paced trials to ensure speedy disposal of cases.
  • These courts were established to make the judiciary far more efficient and for the public to avail prompt justice.
  • These courts were established based on the recommendation of the 11th Finance Commission.
  • They were to be set up by the State governments in consultation with their respective high courts.
  • On the orders of the respective High Courts, FTCs must deal with cases related to sexual assault, check bouncing, anti-corruption and riots.
  • The judges of the FTCs are appointed by the HCs at the ad hoc basis.
  • FTCs were established in the year 2000 to deal with the long-pending cases in the Sessions Court and other lower-level courts.
  • The 11th Finance Commission recommended the establishment of 1,734 FTCs across the nation.
  • Only 1,562 FTCs were functional by 2005 – the year when this experimental scheme must have ended.
  • The Central Government decided to continue the support of this scheme until 2011.
  • However, by 2011, only 1,192 FTCs were established.
  • The 2012 Delhi gang-rape changed this trend.
  • In response, the Delhi High Court ordered the establishment of five FTCs that exclusively deal with the sexual assault cases.
  • The Central Government stopped the funding for FTCs after 2011.
  • The 24th Finance Commission recommended the State Governments to set up 1,800 FTCs at a cost of Rs.4,144 crore.
  • According to the recent report that was released by the Department of Justice, Ministry of Law and Justice, in June 2019, there are about 581 FTCs operating across the nation.
  • These courts have approximately 5.9 lakh pending cases.
  • Furthermore, 56% of the States and the UTs don’t have FTCs.

What are the issues with the FTCs?

  • Not addressing the core issue: The main aim of the FTCs is to undertake a speedy trial in order to expeditiously dispose of the long-pending cases. However, these courts are established in response to specific cases like rape, sexual assault on minors, etc.
  • Lack infrastructure: Most of the Fast-Track cases are being carried out in the existing courts. New infrastructures are not provided exclusively for Fast-Track cases.
  • Lack manpower: Several States appoint judges exclusively for the FTCs from the existing pool of judges. This is due to the limited number of judges available across the nation. Many don’t even have permanent staff in the FTCs.
  • Lack of technological development: Several FTCs can’t even play audio and video recordings during the hearings due to the lack of technological resources and infrastructure.
  • Lack coordination: The special courts and the FTCs come under different judicial bodies in the different states in India. This structure makes coordination highly difficult and complex.
  • The inefficiency of the forensic laboratory: The forensic laboratories are seriously understaffed. Thus, due to the delay from these labs, the cases are also delayed.
  • Lack uniformity: A survey conducted by the National Law University, New Delhi, showed that there is a variation in the kinds of cases conducted by the FTCs. Many FTCs exclusively deal with the sexual assault cases while the other deal with different cases like cheque bouncing and other minor cases.

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Is increasing the number of FTCs a solution?

  • Without addressing the core issues, adding more FTCs to deal with the POSCO Act does little to solve the problems that are plaguing the judiciary.
  • It is estimated the subordinate courts account for 86% of the pending cases while 13.8% of the pendency is from 24 HCs. The SC accounts for the remaining 0.2% of the cases.
  • The main reason for this backlog of delayed cases is due to the insufficiency of judges in High Courts and the subordinate courts.
  • Thus increasing the number of FTCs does not address the core issue – the lack of judges in these courts.
  • Also, without addressing the issues of the lack of infrastructure and technological resources, authorizing more judges may not provide the anticipated result.

What are the measures taken to address the issue?

The government has taken several measures to address the issue. They are as follows:

  • Increase in the number of High Court judges: The Ministry of Law and Justice has increased the strength of the High court judges. The HCs had 906 judges in the year 2014. By 2018, the number had increased to 1,079.
  • All India Judicial Services: The government has officially initiated all the procedures to set up All India Judicial Services to bring in professional judicial officers and increase the number of judges in the judiciary.
  • National Legal Service Authority (NaLSA): The government has increased the funding to NaLSA by 165%. It has been constituted to provide free legal service to the economically weaker sections of the society and also to organize Lok Adalat for the amicable settlement of disputes. Lok Adalat has seen a 670% increase in the disposal of cases between 2013-14 and 2017-18.
  • Tele-Law: It is a portal that aims to mainstream the legal aid through Common Service Centres and Nyaya Bandhu so that legal advice and aid is provided even in the remotest parts of the country.
  • Nyaya Vikas: It is a web portal and an app that was launched by the law ministry to monitor the progress of the infrastructure of the judiciary. They were developed by ISRO using the remote sensing technology. This app is used to survey the progress of the judiciary’s infrastructure development so that it can later be reviewed by the moderator.
  • Active observation of cases: Legal Information Management and Briefing System (LIMBS) is a web portal that was set up by the government so that it can upload the details and status of all the pending judicial cases across the country.
  • e-Courts Mission Mode Project: It is an e-governance project that involves the ICT enablement of the district and subordinate courts of the nation. This project aims to provide information regarding the cases to litigants, judges and the lawyers through mail and web portal.
  • Arbitration and Conciliation (Amendment) Bill, 2019: This bill aims at setting up of Arbitration Council of India (ACI), an independent body that promotes arbitration, mediation, conciliation, and other alternative dispute redressal systems.
  • Streamlining of the tribunals: The existing 36 Tribunals were reduced to 18 based on its necessity.

Way forward

  • The States must identify the systemic issues at the ground level and address it in a swift manner to ensure that the FTC’s dispose of the cases in a time-bound manner.
  • The state governments must also be in contact with the senior and other related personnel so that these governments can promptly address the issues at the local level.
  • All the subordinate courts must be given equal importance while addressing the systemic issues within the judiciary.
  • Coordination must be brought in through the establishment of an administrative judicial body to oversee the subordinate courts.
  • If the issues of infrastructure, manpower and the technological deficiencies are addressed, the FTCs will become a resourceful system that can solve the problems of inefficiency within the judiciary.
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