India opens fast-track courts after Delhi gang rape--report

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Wed, 10 Apr 2013 16:44 GMT
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By Nita Bhalla

NEW DELHI (TrustLaw) - The Indian government has set up 73 fast-track courts across the country since January to try cases of sexual violence against women following unprecedented public protests after the gang rape and murder of a young woman in the capital almost four months ago, the Times of India reported on Wednesday.

These are among 1,800 fast-track courts the authorities plan to set up and run for three years, focusing on violent crimes and other serious offences against women, children and the elderly, as part of broader judicial reforms, the report said.

"Rattled by the December 16 gang-rape in Delhi, the government has gone on an overdrive to set up fast-track courts, opening 73 such courts, including a few in Delhi, since January to try cases of sexual harassment and other heinous crimes," the report said.

One of the biggest obstacles to winning justice for rape victims is the length of the trials, legal experts say. In an average case, it can take a court five to 10 years to reach judgment.

India has far too few courts, judges and prosecutors for its 1.2 billion people. It has one fifth  the number of judges per capita that the United States has, and there is a backlog of millions of cases.

This means that cases are often dropped, and the accused acquitted, long before all the evidence has been heard. Victims of crime often become tired and disillusioned, unable to spend the time and money required to attend court hearings and wanting to get on with their lives.

Lawyers say rape victims and their witnesses are sometimes intimidated during lengthy trials by the accused who are, in some cases, granted bail by the court, although rape is a non-bailable offence.