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Law Gives 60 Days for Rape Trial; Delhi Court Takes 240 for Survivor Statement

Representative image.

Representative image.

The study was conducted by Delhi-based NGO Partners for Law in Development with support of the Union Law Ministry and the United Nations Development Programme

New Delhi: The Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) sets a deadline of two months for completion of a rape trial. But it takes at least eight months for a fast-track court in Delhi to just record statement of a rape survivor. Incidentally, Delhi courts are considered to be the model courts in the country.

A Delhi High Court-mandated study on rape trials in the national capital has revealed that breach of the two-month deadline for conclusion of a rape trial has become a norm in the fast-track courts and that a complete overhaul at pre-trial and subsequent stages was required to reform the system.

The study was conducted by Delhi-based NGO Partners for Law in Development (PLD) with support of the Union Law Ministry and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). In October 2013, the High Court had asked the NGO to carry out research studies of trials of rape cases in the special fast-track courts in Delhi.

PLD was asked to identify 16 cases of rape pending before the courts, observe the proceedings, interact with the victims and then submit a report with suitable recommendations.

At the outset, the report underlines that although not representative, the sample size of 16 cases was deemed sufficient for a qualitative analysis and preliminary findings within the constraints of time and resources available for the study. The study was conducted between January 2014 and March 2015.

Citing Section 309(2) of the CrPC, the report, which has now been released by the Law Ministry, laments that despite a legal obligation to conclude the trial in 2 months, the timeline was invariably breached in all the 16 cases.

“Contrary to the stipulation in S.309(2), CrPC of completing rape trials in a period of two months, it was found the deposition of the prosecutrix (victim) alone was not completed within this time period. The minimum time taken to complete just the deposition of the prosecutrix in our data was 77 days (2 months 16 days), with the average time period being 37 weeks (8.5 months),” stated the report.

It further rues that in some cases, the deposition of the victim continued even after the 15 month period of the study. “Delays occur for multiple reasons, including receipt of the FSL reports and systemic factors like increasing case-load, which make delay unavoidable... the need for reform of all agencies that feed into the trial must be emphasized, as well as a stricter approach to adjournments,” said the report.

It pointed out that instead of setting a mandatory outer limit for completion of such trials, the most appropriate method would be to conduct day-to-day hearings, and complete the deposition of the victim at the commencement of the trial so as to leave little room for influence and coercion.

The report added that in all the 16 cases, accused were known to the victims, with the most number of victims in the category of 20-30 years.

The study has made recommendations under three categories – pre-trial stage, trial stage and need for support services.

At the pre-trial stage, the report states that apart from training of all the agencies involved in investigation and prosecution of rape cases, there is a need for a specialised agency such as a one-stop crisis centre to provide necessary response to the help victims of sexual assault and to enable the victim navigate the legal procedure, rendering her less vulnerable.

PLD’s study added that at the trial stage, it is imperative to shield and protect the victims and witnesses beyond deposition during the trial since accused persons and their families had access to the survivors outside court complexes.

It further recommended that questions on behalf of the lawyer for accused should be mandatorily routed through the judges since defence questions are inevitably hostile, often sexually explicit and intended to insinuate lack of resistance to imply consent.

Underlining “lack of legal orientation on procedure and rights impedes availing remedies under the law”, the report said that “need for a specialised agency to orient, guide the prosecutrix through the legal process, in addition to providing other support services cannot be emphasized enough.”

The study highlighted absence of support services as the most pressing lacuna that deprives a rape survivor from accessing judicial remedies and receive restorative justice outside of the court processes. It said that support services were a must to help victims get compensation, pre-trial orientation, counselling and access to rehabilitation.

In its conclusion, PLD suggested that more studies should be conducted across the country to appreciate how one of the most vulnerable users of the justice deliver system experience their encounter with the law.

“If reform is a process of dynamic engagement, in which legislative changes must be accompanied by trainings, monitoring, analysis and dialogue between stakeholders, then such studies necessarily contribute towards processes of transformative justice,” advocated the report.