Over the last few months, while I have been working with Counsel to Secure Justice, I have continued to notice one common pervasive theme: delay in justice. The glacial nature of courts and the countless adjournments delay access to justice to the society’s most vulnerable. Countless adjournments prolong trials to several years. This is contrary to the mandate as required by law, which is a year, resulting in not only severe harm to the victim and the witnesses, but also to the idea of speedy justice thereby nullifying the effectiveness of the law.
The Protection of Children from Sexual Offenses Act (POCSO) requires a court to conclude the trial within a year and the testimony of the child must be taken within thirty days of the framing of the charges. However, that is often not the case.
According to an extensive study conducted in sixty POCSO cases, there were over 511 adjournments since 2012. One of the biggest reasons for the adjournments was due to courts. Court adjournments occurred due to the judge being preoccupied with other cases or the judge being absent. With over 4,000 cases pending in POCSO courts, it is no surprise the number of adjournments that result due to courts.
While most adjournments occurred due to courts, the second biggest reason for the adjournment was due to the defense. It is a common strategy for defense to use all tactics to delay trials. Additionally, in gang rapes, where the accused’s lawyers outnumber the victim, the lawyers for the accused are able to use various tactics to continue to delay trials.
Delay in trials cause the trial to take years often resulting in the victim turning hostile, which result in acquittals. According to the a request submitted by the Delhi Legal Services Authority to the High Court, the acquittal rates in POCSO cases is alarmingly low, 18.49%.*
Children are the most vulnerable members of our society. Child victims of sexual assault are especially vulnerable to further abuse. Upon reporting the abuse, the children and their families face a lot of harassment from society, pressure to withdraw from the accused, among countless other hurdles. It is the responsibility of the judicial system to adjudicate trials as quickly as possible and to provide not just justice but speedy justice for victims. Presently, that is not the case and by delaying justice to victims, the judicial system is failing its victims.
*Press Trust of India. “Convictin Rate in POCSO Cases Alarmingly Low: DSLSA to HC.” Business Standard, 24 Oct 2016. Upd. 10 Apr 2017. Web. http://www.business-standard.com/article/pti-stories/conviction-rate-in-pocso-cases-alarmingly-low-dslsa-to-hc-116102400909_1.html