Despite fast-track courts, rape conviction rate still low
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Amid the clamour to establish fast-track courts for rape cases, the numbers tell a different story in Rajasthan, where such courts were first set up. While the conviction rate in rape cases has stayed the same and pendency has barely improved, authorities admit that due to hurried trials, a fair share of convictions are overturned in the high court.
All rape cases were transferred to fast-track courts in Rajasthan in 2005, following an alarming increase in cases, many involving foreign tourists. The figures available with Rajasthan's courts show that the conviction rate in rape cases has remained the same — around 25 per cent — since 2000. While the conviction rate peaked in 2006 at 35.4 per cent, it recorded the lowest in a decade in 2011 when only 18.31 per cent of 1,800 cases ended in convictions.
Senior officials in the advocate general's (AG) office asserted that convictions from fast-track courts were regularly overturned in Rajasthan's high court. "In fast-track courts, the trial is sometimes hurried because of pressure from the government and media. We have seen cases where the trial was completed and an accused convicted within days or even weeks, but was later overturned by the high court," said a senior official. He added that prior to 2005, the rate of overturned convictions was far lower.
"Convictions are being overruled in the high court, simply because the verdict could not withstand its scrutiny," said PUCL secretary Kavita Srivastava. She added that fast-track courts seem self-defeating at times.
Records available with the AG's office show that at least 1,000 rape cases are still pending in the Rajasthan high court — some since 1985.
According to a trial court lawyer, who spoke on condition of anonymity, procedures in fast-track courts are not unlike regular trial courts. "In fast-track courts, the hearing is done on a day-to-day basis, while in normal courts hearings can be slated days or weeks apart. However, adjournments in fast-track courts follow the same procedures," he said.