Sexual violence against women in the form of rape, and sexual assault of children is considered as one of the most heinous crimes against the personal liberty and dignity of an individual. Therefore, it has always remained a genuine endeavour on the part of government to ensure effective legal safeguards in the form of legislation, ensuring best possible legal assistance to the victims of sexual assault. Keeping in view the increasing instances of sexual assault against women and children, the special POCSO Act was passed. One of the main features of the Act is the establishment of special POCSO Court on fast track basis. Thus, to implement the POCSO Act in its letter and spirit as well as in compliance with the directions of Hon’ble Supreme Court in this regard, the recent decision of the administrative council to establish four fast track courts in the UT of J&K is a welcome step.
The purpose of establishing fast track courts is the speedy disposal of cases of sexual assault against children, also a protective and congenial atmosphere to these victims as provided under the POCSO Act in comparison to normal courts. Pocso is a special Act which could be effectively implemented only by establishment of fast track courts/special courts. Tender age of children makes acts of sexual assault more heinous calling for stringent punishment. Pocso Act is gender neutral and encompasses within its ambit a child as a victim below the age of 18 years. A fast track court is a necessity for dealing with such offences because a specialized treatment is required to be given to a child who has gone through the trauma. Moreover, the presiding officer of a special Pocso court has a significant role to play while the trials in such cases are being conducted on a fast track basis. It is the prime responsibility of the presiding officer to ensure child friendly atmosphere while recording of statement of the victim child. The Act also provides for the appointment of a special public prosecutor who has to assist the courts in the dispensation of justice. A single minded and a focused approach is also needed on part of the special public prosecutor who is required to be well versed with child psychology, and has an intrinsic art of motivation to encourage the victim to speak the truth, without any fear or hesitation. Exclusive courts for the conduct of trials in these types of cases can effectively provide such trust building atmosphere and stress free approach to fragile child victims of sexual assault.
Loopholes to be plugged
Since these are considered as specialized crimes, the success of trial depends upon the level of investigation conducted. To meet the ends of justice only the setting up of fast track courts is not suffice but investigation has to be up to the mark as well. Police officers need to be sensitised and trained about the technical and procedural aspects relating to the sexual assault cases along with the prosecutors so that justice prevails. The focus has to be on the collection of evidence without any delay.
Proactive role by courts
Courts need to play a proactive role now. The court has to ensure that evidence in the form of oral, documentary, including electronic and medical evidence once collected needs to be upto date so that no time is wasted in its presentation/summoning later on; like medical records of victim and accused, Fsl reports etc., essentially date of birth certificate of the victim which is important in cases of minor victims covered under the POCSO Act. Sometimes the vital evidence is missed due to which the rendering of justice becomes a difficult task. It is expected that there should be a cooperative approach on the part of each and every agency dealing with such cases so that the dispensation of justice by these newly established courts becomes easier. There is also need to take effective measures against hostile witness syndrome which acts as a great set back to the administration of criminal justice system. This could only be achieved by strict adherence to Hon’ble Supreme Court guidelines in this regard. In the leading case of Zahira Habibullah Sheikh v. State of Gujarat, it was held by the Honourable Supreme Court that courts need to play a participatory role in trial process for ensuring fair justice. Cooperation and participation of witnesses without any threat or fear is essential for the smooth conduct of trial. Since witnesses are the eyes and ears of justice, it would not be wrong to say that these fast track courts are a step in the direction of witness protection as well.
The functioning of fast track courts is quite different from regular courts. Now, protracted trial in sexual assault cases will be reduced significantly and it is also expected that victim and witness protection as well as their effective participation in the judicial process will be ensured to a larger extent by putting an end to the “culture of compromise” and “double victimisation”in rape and sexual assault cases. Speedy justice is not a distant dream now for victims of sexual assault.
Surekha Bhat (kaw) is a Advocate.