The wheels of justice turn slowly, but as reflected in Euripides’s sentiment in 404 BC, do they grind exceedingly fine even in due course?
When there is widespread concern for speedy processing of cases, plenty of cases are dragging on for years. The case of British teenager Scarlet Keeling Eden, whose bruised body was found at Anjuna, has completed five years this Monday, but justice to the victim is still a distant mirage.
The Scarlet trial began mid-2010 and was expected to cease by that year end, but absence of a full-time judge at the Children’s Court, withdrawal of public prosecutor and other factors pulled the brakes on the trial.
The Goa government announced in the winter session of the legislative assembly last month that the High Court had directed session courts to transfer all cases of atrocities against women to fast track courts for speedy trial. The government’s decision came after the rape of a Vasco student.
“No court is empowered to try a case all by itself. It has to be assisted by the prosecution and the defence. Unless adequate personnel and finances are provided for the prosecution, we have seen that cases conclude only after decades,” Vikram Varma, the advocate who helped Fiona McKeown run a campaign to get justice for her child, in the botched police investigation, was quoted as saying.
The backlog consists of hundreds of cases including two high-profile trials. The legal fraternity agrees that delay in delivering judgment is because the court saw six judges change since 2008, holding additional charges by judges because of which cases which were being heard thrice a week were lately reduced to just four sittings a month.
Fast-tracking of trials is a welcome step but experts point out to several other factors which delay in disposing off cases.
Advocate Raju Poulekar says it is due to lack of adequate number of judges. “A full-time judge is essential for speedy trial and disposal of cases,” he said.
In certain cases, the whereabouts of the victims or witnesses are not traceable due to inordinate delay in filing the charge sheet. Hence, prompt deposition is a must which can happen only through expedited probe.
Public prosecutor Shusma, who has mostly handled cases of rescued commercial sex workers and foreign victims, said securing their presence is a difficult task. “The addresses of the accused persons are verified which is not done otherwise. Either the victims (non-Goan) change their postal addresses or give fake addresses to the investigating agency. Many victims, especially foreigners give their temporary addresses,” she said.
Therefore are adequate number of judges and speedy trials the fix-all for preventing crimes against women, as many opine?
Senior advocate Surendra Desai differs. According to him, speedy trial is not the solution for preventing crimes against women. “There has to be a solution to prevent atrocities against women… Judges will conduct speedy trials and punish the accused, which will help in a way but what are the preventive measures? Deterrence should be created,” he said.
Another counsel, Galileo Teles also echoed similar opinion while also recommending fixing important lacunas. He cited that in certain cases, the victims or witnesses fail to memorize the incident during the trial, which is because of the delayed charge sheeting of the case.
“There has to be effective enforcement of the code of criminal procedure for making witnesses available because at times, the trial completes but unavailability of witnesses prolongs the proceedings,” he said.
“Most important lacuna is delay in filing the charge sheet within 60 or 90 days period depending on the seriousness of the case. A jailed accused is entitled for default bail if the charge sheet is not filed during the stipulated time.” [H]