Long trials to blame for rapists walking free

By Parmod Kumar, IANS
Tuesday, November 30, 2010

NEW DELHI - Three out of four rape accused in India go scot-free, official data reveals. Behind the dismal conviction rate is a saga of long trials and the sabotage of court proceedings by the accused, say experts even as another gangrape in the capital has left the nation shocked.

According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), since 1971 the increase in rape cases has been 678 percent. In eight years from 2001-8, crimes against women have increased by 112 percent.

Going by the cases registered by police, a rape takes place every day in the national capital. According to the NCRB, the conviction rate in rape and molestation cases in India is a dismal 27 percent - almost one in four cases.

The low conviction rate of rapists fails to create deterrence in society, inadvertently adding to the rising number of such incidents, lawyers who IANS spoke to said.

Justice (retired) R.S. Sodhi, now a senior counsel in apex court, rues that there are “no separate courts to try cases of sexual assault against women”.

Under the Criminal Procedure Code, all trials in a rape case should be completed within 90 days of filing the chargesheet.

But justice Sodhi, who awarded a death sentence to convict Santosh Singh in Delhi University student Priyadarshani Mattoo’s rape-cum-murder case, said investigation and prosecution officials can hardly meet the statutory requirements to ensure that a rape trial is completed within that time.

In the Mattoo case, Santosh Singh’s punishment was reduced to a life sentence by the Supreme Court.

In the latest shocker, a 30-year-old woman from Mizoram who was a BPO employee was abducted by four men and gangraped in a moving goods carrier in the capital’s Dhaula Kuan area last week. She was abducted soon after being dropped along with another girl, 100 metres from her home, by her office vehicle late in the night.

Rape is a non-bailable offence. But often a rapist gets bail while the case is in court and uses his freedom to derail the trial.

The sole ground on which an alleged rapist walks away with bail is their trial would take too long to justify his long incarceration, say lawyers.

“The cumulative affect of the investigations and prosecution can hardly satisfy the statutory requirements,” Justice Sodhi told IANS.

Also, sessions courts that deal with cases of sexual assault are hugely overburdened, he said. One adjournment in a rape trial conducted by an overburdened sessions court may delay the case by three to five months, said Justice Sodhi.

He suggested that for the speedy disposal of rape cases, the investigation and prosecution wing officials should be vigilant. “Witnesses fielded should be the bare minimum and only relevant material should be placed before the court,” he said.

To prevent wastage of court’s time, a judge conducting the trial should not permit irrelevant questions being posed to witnesses, Justice Sodhi said.

Senior counsel Ramesh Gupta said a part of the blame for delay in rape case trials should be shared by police and forensic science laboratories.

“In order to cement their case, police present too many witnesses. This prolongs the court proceedings inordinately as each of them has to depose and face cross-examination,” he said.

The forensic labs, at times, take months before submitting their report on the exhibits produced by police in courts, Gupta said.

Gupta said the large number of annual leaves enjoyed by judges and public prosecutors and frequent adjournments sought by defence lawyers also contribute to delays in rape trials.

Every sessions court judge enjoys a leave of about 80 days in a year, in addition to weekly day offs. Public prosecutors have 50 leaves, apart from weekends.

Ofter a judge and prosecutor don’t avail leave in tandem, resulting in adjournments and prolonged rape case trials, said Gupta.

The legal fraternity is unanimous that as the situation stands today, the possibility of expeditious justice or courts meeting the statutory deadlines in rape case, if not utopian, is a difficult proposition.

(Parmod Kumar can be contacted at saneel2010@gmail.com)

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