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Why Delhi case took months

- Coordination between different agencies believed to be key to finishing trial within a month

New Delhi, Dec. 16: Delhi fast track courts set up after the December 16 gang rape have decided 415 cases in almost a year. However, it has taken nine months to convict four accused in the Delhi case.

Courts across the country have been deciding cases of sexual violence cases in a matter of days. In May this year, a sessions court in Bengal’s Malda decided the case of a nine-year-old rape victim in 23 days.

The case was registered on April 24, police completed investigation and submitted a chargesheet on April 27. Trial started two days later. The 56-year-old accused was convicted on May 17 and sentenced to life on May 19.

In the December 16 case, all accused were arrested by December 23 and the police filed a chargesheet on January 3. However, proceedings started two weeks later. Till July, the court had recorded the testimonies of only prosecution witnesses. Final arguments ended on September 3. The accused were held guilty on September 10 after 130 hearings and multiple adjournments.

“It is not difficult to complete rape cases within a month if due process in followed. I cannot understand why the Delhi gang rape case took so long,” said Malda district’s public prosecutor Tirtho Bose who took charge in January 2013.

“In this case (Malda rape case), the investigating officer and I were coordinating on a daily basis. During the trial, I had given him strict instructions to get witnesses to the stand without fail. As a result, not one date of the court was wasted and no witness failed to turn up as they were escorted to court with police protection,” said Bose.

In the Delhi case, the court had to ask the police to send summons to witnesses of the defence long after the trial was under way. Generally, they are produced in court by the defence.

Sukhchain Singh Gill, the Hoshiarpur senior superintendent of police who investigated a case in which a rapist was sent to jail after a trial lasting eight days in January this year, said coordination between different agencies was the only way to speed up trials.

“Coordination between the judiciary, prosecution and the police is the only way that cases can be disposed of quickly. In this case, a SHO was assigned one witness each. He would personally escort the witness to court to ensure there were no adjournments because of their absent. The court didn’t adjourn once during the trial. We prioritise our cases here, and those that concern women are always dealt with expeditiously,” said Gill.

Advocate Shilpi Jain, the defence lawyer in the Alwar rape case in which a foreign tourist was violated by Bitti Mohanty, said the presence of multiple witnesses for the defence should have speeded up the December 16 case.

There were 85 prosecution witnesses and 17 for defence in the Delhi case.

“The Delhi case should have been wrapped up within a month. In most rape cases there are no witnesses, but in this case the court had a witness and the dying declaration of the victim. As far as rape cases go, this is a lot of evidence,” said Jain. The trial in the Alwar rape case was completed in five days and the court examined 21 witnesses.

Lawyer Ranvir Sharma agreed that the Delhi case took longer than necessary but argued that a few things delayed proceedings — there were six accused to be heard, the juvenility of one had to be determined and another died when the trial was on.

“Sometimes, trials in sexual offence cases become lengthy as courts fail to put pressure on the prosecution and defence to expedite the trial. In some cases, the accused have the intention to delay the trial so that they can put pressure on the complainant and settle the matter,” said Sharma.

However, Hastimal Saraswat, the special public prosecutor of two Rajasthan rape cases that were wrapped up in less than 25 days in 2005 and 2006, feels that these restrictions could have been overcome.

“The recipe to get quick justice is day-to-day hearing, no adjournments and coordination between the police and the prosecution. It also means that the judge has to crack down on the defence for wasting time, and basically run a tight ship,” said Saraswat.