Nine months help put the way a case chugs along in perspective.
On Tuesday, a special fast track court in Delhi hearing the case of the gang rape of a 23-year-old student in December last year held all accused men guilty of committing the “most brutal and inhuman act with the intention of causing death”.
While some lawyers take comfort in the fact that justice is finally being served, others question the effectiveness of having a fast track court. After all, it took the court hearing the December 16, 2012, case nine months to pronounce the four men accused of gang-raping a 23-year-old medical student in Delhi.
Besides convicting Mukesh, 26, Pawan Gupta, 19, Vinay Sharma, 20, and Akshay Thakur, 28, on charges of gang rape and murder of the “helpless victim”, the court also held them guilty of attempt to murder, unnatural sexual offences, dacoity, destruction of evidence, conspiracy, kidnapping or abducting in order to murder.
The murder charge carries with it a maximum punishment of death and a minimum of a life term in prison. The court will hear arguments on the quantum of sentence on Wednesday.
True that the case is more complicated in terms of the number of witnesses, evidence and number of hearings. But, the Delhi court could have taken a leaf out of Rajasthan’s book, which in 2005 and 2006 set precedents by convicting those accused of rape in less than a month. Two days after a German tourist was raped in Jodhpur on May 11, 2005, the HC ordered that the probe be completed in a month. A fast track court in Jodhpur lived up to its name by delivering a verdict in 21 days.
Such an expeditious conviction was replicated the following year, with a fast track court on April 12 convicting Bitti Mohanty, son of former Odisha DGP BB Mohanty, of raping a German girl in Alwar in less than a fortnight of the case being filed.
Lawyers maintain that each case is different. But, experts feel that the Delhi gang rape verdict could definitely have been expedited.
“In rape cases, there aren’t many eyewitnesses; there was one in the Delhi case. Usually, most of the time is spent examining these witnesses. Up to four formal witnesses (police officers who reach the spot, duty officers who deposit evidence and prepare an inventory) can be examined on the same day,” explains advocate Shilpi Jain, who represented the German tourist in Alwar.
“The biggest delays are caused by inefficiency and corruption in investigating agencies,” she alleges. Jain claims that the Alwar case was expedited because it involved a ‘white tourist’; there was pressure from the German embassy and the CM. If there is no time lost in furnishing forensic/medical reports, explains Jain, courts can wind up trials within a month. “In the Delhi case, the court could have reached a verdict in 15 days.”
The Alwar case also proved that cases need not be unnecessarily dragged. When none of the witnesses the defence was supposed to present turned up on April 10, 2006, the court did not adjourn the case. Instead, displaying an extraordinary sense urgency, it forced the counsels on both sides to wrap up their final arguments that day. The verdict was delivered on the next working day — April 12.